The effect of erosion on the solar wind stand-off distance at Mercury


  • James A. Slavin,

  • Robert E. Holzer


Recent studies have provided quantitative measurements of the effect of dayside magnetic reconnection on the position of the earth's forward magnetopause. By scaling these terrestrial observations to Mercury, it is predicted that the mean solar wind stand-off distance for average solar wind dynamic pressure conditions will be 0.2–0.7Rm inward from its ‘ground state’ position. Furthermore, it is expected that the magnetopause will be eroded and/or compressed to within 0.2Rm of Mercury's surface a significant portion of the time. Empirical formulae derived for the earth's magnetosphere are used to determine both solar wind stand-off distances and solar wind dynamic pressures for the two Mariner 10 encounters with Mercury's magnetosphere. It is found that for the first encounter when the interplanetary magnetic field was often southward and substorm signatures are observed inside the magnetosphere, the mean stand-off distance inferred from the boundary crossings is 1.5Rm (for Psw = 6.0 × 10−8 dynes/cm²). At the time of the final encounter, the Mariner 10 magnetometer observed no significant southward component in the IMF and no substorm activity was evident. For this encounter, the mean inferred stand-off distance is 1.9Rm consistent with the expected effects of magnetic flux transfer within a terrestrial-type magnetosphere. A dipole moment of 6±2 × 1022 G-cm³ is calculated from the observed bow shock and magnetopause positions. Finally, the importance of magnetic flux transfer in the solar wind-magnetosphere-atmosphere-surface interaction at Mercury is briefly discussed.