Statistical study of ICME effects on Mercury's magnetospheric boundaries and northern cusp region from MESSENGER


This paper presents a systematic investigation of the large-scale processes in Mercury's magnetosphere during interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs) using observations from the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission. We study the motion of the bow shock and magnetopause boundaries, quantify the magnetospheric compression, and characterize the size, extent, and plasma pressure of the northern cusp region and the plasma precipitation to the surface. During ICMEs, the magnetopause was substantially compressed, as the subsolar standoff distance from the center of the planet was reduced by ∼15% compared with the value during nominal solar wind conditions, and the magnetopause reached the surface of the planet ∼30% of the time. On the other hand, the bow shock under ICME conditions was located farther from the planet than for nominal solar wind conditions. The cusp was observed to extend ∼10° farther equatorward and 2 h wider in local time. In addition, the average plasma pressure in the cusp was more than double that determined under nominal conditions. For the most extreme cases, the particle precipitation to the surface was an order of magnitude higher than on average. The solar wind ram pressure and the Alfvén Mach number are found to be the dominant factors affecting these changes in the magnetosphere, with the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) direction and the IMF magnetic pressure playing a small but likely nonnegligible role.

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JGR: Space Physics



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