Mercury is the smallest planet in our solar system, but it shares one similarity with Earth: It has boasts geomagnetic storms, according to new research by scientists in US, Canada & China revealed on March 29, 2022.
The research relates to 2 separate studies published in February 2022 that describe some key features of this small and often over-looked planet.
2 studies about an often overlooked planet
The first study shows that the planet has a ring current consisting-of-charged particles that flows-laterally around the planet and excludes poles, while the second points-to-existence of geomagnetic storms triggered by this specific ring current.
“The processes are quite similar to those here on Earth,” Hui Zhang, a professor of space physics at the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, said in the statement. “The main differences are the size of planet and Mercury has a weak magnetic field & virtually no atmosphere.
The question now remains: do these storms on Mercury produce auroras like those on Earth? It turns out that’s not the case, since solar wind particles don’t encounter an atmosphere on the distant planet, allowing them to reach the surface unimpeded.
Scientists further speculate that Mercury storms would therefore only be visible through X-ray & gamma-ray examination.
A fortuitous coincidence
If storms are invisible, how was their existence found? It required a fortuitous coincidence: a series of coronal mass ejections from Sun on April 8 to 18, 2015 and end of NASA messenger space probe that crashed to the planet’s surface on April 30, 2015.
It was a new analysis of data from Messenger, which had begun to approaching closer to the planet as a result of its upcoming-crash, which showed ” the presence of an intensification of the ring current essential for triggering magnetic storms,” according to the second of the two articles.
More specifically, it was coronal mass ejection on April 14 that turned out to be key for scientists to understand how the planet’s storms work as it compressing Mercury’s ring current on the sun-facing side & increasing the energy of the current.
In the past, scientists have studied Mercury’s inner core by its gravity & rotation, and also concluded that its surface is covered with diamonds. What other secrets might our neighboring planet hold?