"We now know more about what Mercury's made of than ever before," said Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor in the departments of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and Aerospace Engineering. "Holy cow, we found way more than we expected!"
Zurbuchen is project leader of the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS), a soda-can sized sensor on board the MESSENGER spacecraft, which performed the first of three scheduled Mercury flybys in January. A paper on FIPS' results from this flyby is published in the July 4 edition of Science.
Since the Mariner 10 spacecraft's 1975 discovery of Mercury's magnetic field, scientists have speculated about how this magnetic field and the solar wind interact with the planet's surface and exosphere, or thin atmosphere.
FIPS detected silicon, sodium, sulfur and even water ions around Mercury. Ions are atoms or molecules that have lost electrons and therefore have an electric charge.
Because of the quantities of these molecules that scientists detected in Mercury's space environment, they surmise that they were blasted from the surface or exosphere by the solar wind. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. It buffets Mercury, which is 2/3 closer to the sun than the Earth, and it causes particles from Mercury's surface and atmosphere to sputter into space. FIPS measured these sputtered particles.
"It's like we did a forensic analysis of Mercury," Zurbuchen said. "This flyby got the first-ever look at surface composition.
"The Mercury magnetosphere is full of many ionic species, both atomic and molecular, and in a variety of charge states. What is in some sense a Mercury plasma nebula is far richer in complexity and makeup than the Io plasma torus in the Jupiter system."
Io is a volcanically active moon of Jupiter that is often considered one of the most exciting space environments, Zurbuchen said. Images and other measurements made by MESSENGER suggest that Mercury's surface composition was determined at least in part by volcanic processes.
FIPS was built at the University of Michigan by more than 10 U-M engineers and technicians with help from more than 50 students.
The paper is called "MESSENGER Observations of the Composition of Mercury's Ionized Exosphere and Plasma Environment."
OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma
First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences