Mercurial magnetic field waves measured by orbiting satellite


  • Colin Schultz


Researchers working with NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging ( MESSENGER) spacecraft report the frequent detections of Kelvin-Helmholtz (KH) waves at the edge of the innermost planet's magnetosphere. In six different sets of magnetic field measurements made by the orbiter as it passed through Mercury's magnetopause, the boundary that separates the planet's magnetosphere from the solar wind plasma in the magnetosheath, Sundberg et al. detected the magnetic field oscillations characteristic of fully developed KH waves. These waves form when fuids of different speeds travel alongside each other—in this case, the magnetosphere and magnetosheath plasmas—and promote mixing of the plasmas on larger spatial, and shorter time, scales than diffusive transport. The observations, which span the frst 88 days of MESSENGER's time in orbit, bring Mercury alongside Earth, Saturn, and Venus as planets for which such KH waves are of importance.