Mercury’s surface response to the interplanetary environment: Identifying needed studies in laboratory astrophysics


Mon, Jan 24, 2022 to
Fri, Jan 28, 2022    

Event Type

Purpose and Scope

Mercury is a complex system of interconnected parts: its magnetosphere, exosphere, and surface. How this system responds to its interplanetary (solar and dust) environment is equally complex. Numerous models have been developed to understand how solar wind particles and micrometeorites interact with Mercury’s magnetosphere and surface to modify the surface spectral, mineral, and chemical properties and to produce the planet’s exosphere. However, the reliability of these models hinges on how accurately we understand the underlying physical processes responsible for the observed properties.

The scientific questions that this workshop aims to enable researchers to address more reliably grow out of what we have learned from the MESSENGER mission and expect from the BepiColombo observations. Some of these questions include:

1. How do the surface composition, mineralogy, and physical conditions affect the surface release processes and particle environment?

  • What is the regional distribution of the surface mineralogy of the planet?
  • What are the sources and compositions of specific elements, particularly the volatiles, on Mercury?
  • What analog materials does one need to simulate the hermean surface?

2. How does the radiative environment affect the lifetime of volatile and refractory elements on the surface of Mercury?

  • What are the thermal properties across the surface?
  • How do the diurnal variations affect the surface and development of the regolith?
  • What does one need to simulate the hermean radiative environment?

3. How do ion impacts modify the surface and feed the particle environment?

  • How do the solar wind and planetary ions gain energy, circulate inside the magnetosphere and eventually interact with Mercury’s surface?
  • What is their spatial distribution across the planet’s surface and how do these fluxes, energies, and spatial distribution vary with time?
  • What does one need to simulate the hermean ion environment?

4. What effects do micrometeoroids impacting the surface have on the exosphere?

  • How does charging of the micrometeoroids affect their interaction with the magnetosphere and ultimate impact distribution across the surface?
  • What does one need to simulate the hermean micrometeorids environment?

This workshop will focus on identifying those physical processes whose uncertainties hinder the field’s ability to reliably model Mercury’s response to the solar and interplanetary environment. In specific, the workshop will discuss those studies in laboratory astrophysics, both experimental and theoretical, that are most critically needed in order to advance our understanding of Mercury’s system.

The goal of this workshop is to produce a series of focused reports to guide the scientific community’s efforts for supporting the analysis of the BepiColombo measurements and observations. It will examine the limitations of current planetary models that allow us to understand what is observed in situ building on the underlying laboratory astrophysics data. Furthermore, it will outline the current status of laboratory astrophysics studies applicable to the above questions and what experimental and theoretical work is needed to fully address these unknowns.

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