Mercury's atmosphere: A surface-bounded exosphere

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Physics and Astronomy


The existence of a surface-bounded exosphere about Mercury was discovered through the Mariner 10 airglow and occultation experiments. Most of what is currently known or understood about this very tenuous atmosphere, however, comes from ground-based telescopic observations. It is likely that only a subset of the exospheric constituents have been identified, but their variable abundance with location, time, and space weather events demonstrate that Mercury's exosphere is part of a complex system involving the planet's surface, magnetosphere, and the surrounding space environment (the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field). This paper reviews the current hypotheses and supporting observations concerning the processes that form and support the exosphere. The outstanding questions and issues regarding Mercury's exosphere stem from our current lack of knowledge concerning the surface composition, the magnetic field behavior within the local space environment, and the character of the local space environment.

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