Space Science Reviews

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 433–509

Processes that Promote and Deplete the Exosphere of Mercury


    • Department of AstronomyUniversity of Maryland
  • Gabrielle Cremonese
    • Osservatorio Astronomico-INAF
  • Helmut Lammer
    • Space Research InstituteAustrian Academy of Sciences
  • Stefano Orsini
    • Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario-CNR
  • Andrew E. Potter
    • National Solar Observatory
  • Ann L. Sprague
    • Lunar and Planetary LaboratoryUniversity of Arizona
  • Peter Wurz
    • Physics InstituteUniversity of Bern
  • Maxim L. Khodachenko
    • Space Research InstituteAustrian Academy of Sciences
  • Herbert I. M. Lichtenegger
    • Space Research InstituteAustrian Academy of Sciences
  • Anna Milillo
    • Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario-CNR
  • Alessandro Mura
    • Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario-CNR

DOI: 10.1007/s11214-007-9232-0

Cite this article as:
Killen, R., Cremonese, G., Lammer, H. et al. Space Sci Rev (2007) 132: 433. doi:10.1007/s11214-007-9232-0


It has been speculated that the composition of the exosphere is related to the composition of Mercury’s crustal materials. If this relationship is true, then inferences regarding the bulk chemistry of the planet might be made from a thorough exospheric study. The most vexing of all unsolved problems is the uncertainty in the source of each component. Historically, it has been believed that H and He come primarily from the solar wind (Goldstein, B.E., et al. in J. Geophys. Res. 86:5485–5499, 1981), Na and K come from volatilized materials partitioned between Mercury’s crust and meteoritic impactors (Hunten, D.M., et al. in Mercury, pp. 562–612, 1988; Morgan, T.H., et al. in Icarus 74:156–170, 1988; Killen, R.M., et al. in Icarus 171:1–19, 2004b). The processes that eject atoms and molecules into the exosphere of Mercury are generally considered to be thermal vaporization, photon-stimulated desorption (PSD), impact vaporization, and ion sputtering. Each of these processes has its own temporal and spatial dependence. The exosphere is strongly influenced by Mercury’s highly elliptical orbit and rapid orbital speed. As a consequence the surface undergoes large fluctuations in temperature and experiences differences of insolation with longitude. Because there is no inclination of the orbital axis, there are regions at extreme northern and southern latitudes that are never exposed to direct sunlight. These cold regions may serve as traps for exospheric constituents or for material that is brought in by exogenic sources such as comets, interplanetary dust, or solar wind, etc. The source rates are dependent not only on temperature and composition of the surface, but also on such factors as porosity, mineralogy, and space weathering. They are not independent of each other. For instance, ion impact may create crystal defects which enhance diffusion of atoms through the grain, and in turn enhance the efficiency of PSD. The impact flux and the size distribution of impactors affects regolith turnover rates (gardening) and the depth dependence of vaporization rates. Gardening serves both as a sink for material and as a source for fresh material. This is extremely important in bounding the rates of the other processes. Space weathering effects, such as the creation of needle-like structures in the regolith, will limit the ejection of atoms by such processes as PSD and ion-sputtering. Therefore, the use of laboratory rates in estimates of exospheric source rates can be helpful but also are often inaccurate if not modified appropriately. Porosity effects may reduce yields by a factor of three (Cassidy, T.A., and Johnson, R.E. in Icarus 176:499–507, 2005). The loss of all atomic species from Mercury’s exosphere other than H and He must be by non-thermal escape. The relative rates of photo-ionization, loss of photo-ions to the solar wind, entrainment of ions in the magnetosphere and direct impact of photo-ions to the surface are an area of active research. These source and loss processes will be discussed in this chapter.


MercuryExosphereSurface compositionParticle release processes

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007