The Shape of Mercury's Magnetopause: The Picture From MESSENGER Magnetometer Observations and Future Prospects for BepiColombo


The MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft orbited Mercury between March 2011 and April 2015, typically passing through the magnetosphere, magnetosheath, and interplanetary magnetic field, on each orbit. Using data from the Magnetometer, we identify magnetopause crossings for the complete orbital mission and model the average boundary shape. We find that Mercury's average magnetopause is well modeled by both an axisymmetric shape and a three-dimensional shape containing indentations in the cusp regions and a magnetotail that is wider in the north-south versus east-west direction. Examination of MESSENGER data and the use of simulated crossings show that coverage is very limited in the cusp region. Parameters describing the indentation are poorly constrained, and model fits may be biased due to the combination of orbital geometry and magnetospheric dynamics. The distribution of MESSENGER data inside the magnetopause, together with minimum variance analysis of a representative subset of magnetopause crossings, hints at the presence of a cusp indentation, though likely shallower than that estimated from the observed crossing positions. The BepiColombo spacecraft will arrive at Mercury in 2025. We simulate expected data coverage and magnetopause crossings using both axisymmetric and three-dimensional magnetopause models. BepiColombo will improve our understanding of the magnetopause shape by providing data over the southern hemisphere and regions of the northern cusp indentation not covered by MESSENGER. There is also the potential for simultaneous measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field and magnetopause position.

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JGR: Space Physics



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