"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."
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17.12.2018 | Universität Basel
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
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A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
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