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Magnetic storms in Mercury’s magnetosphere

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We present evidence of geomagnetic storms in Mercury’s magnetosphere based on MESSENGER magnetic field observations made just before the probe impacted the planet. Our findings answer the question of whether geomagnetic storms can occur in other planetary magnetospheres. The interaction of the solar wind with Mercury’s magnetosphere is known to involve flux transfer events in the dayside magnetosphere, plasmoids and flux ropes in the magnetotail, and substorm-like processes, all of which occur morphologically similar to Earth but with significant differences. The significantly weaker magnetic field, smaller magnetosphere, and much faster timescale of processes around Mercury, when compared with Earth, enable charged particles to escape its magnetosphere more efficiently through magnetopause shadowing and direct bombard of the surface. Our analysis of MESSENGER’s data during a coronal mass ejection (CME) proves that, despite these substantial differences, a bifurcated ring current can form in Mercury’s magnetosphere that initiates magnetic storms under strong solar wind driving.

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Correspondence to QiuGang Zong or JianJun Liu.

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This work was supported by Major Project of Chinese National Programs for Fundamental Research and Development (Grant No. 2021YFA0718600), China Space Agency Project (Grant No. D020301), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 42011530080). We are grateful to the MESSENGER Magnetometer and Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) teams for providing the data. R. Rankin acknowledges financial support from the Canadian Space Agency and NSERC. ZHANG Hui is partially supported by National Science Foundation (Grant No. AGS-1352669).

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Zong, Q., Zhao, J., Liu, J. et al. Magnetic storms in Mercury’s magnetosphere. Sci. China Technol. Sci. 65, 1427–1432 (2022).

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