Investigation of local time dependence of Mercury's sodium exosphere based on a numerical simulation

Hiroaki Misawa, Aya Sonobe, Akira Morioka, Shoichi Okano

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Mercury has a surface-bounded exosphere (SBE) similar to that of the Moon. One of the atmospheric species, sodium, was found by ground-based observations to be the most prominent component. Mercury's sodium SBE is known to be non-uniform with respect to local time (LT) in low-latitude regions: the sodium column density in the dawn-side region is larger than that in the dusk-side region, and the sodium abundance is the largest in the morning-noon region. To reveal the production processes for the exosphere near Mercury's surface, the LT dependence of the exosphere was investigated through a numerical simulation. Three data sets of sodium column densities observed for the dawn-side hemisphere, observed by Sprague et al. [1997. Distribution and abundance of sodium in Mercury's atmosphere, 1985-1988. Icarus 12, 506-527], were compared with results simulated by a 3D Monte Carlo method, and the source rates and density of sodium of the planetary surface were estimated. In the simulation, the photon-stimulated desorption (PSD) and thermal desorption (TD) processes were assumed as the release mechanisms. The sodium source rates for the three data sets, at respective heliocentric distances of about 0.33, 0.42, and 0.44 AU, were estimated as 1-4×108 Na/cm2/s with weak LT dependence. In contrast, the expected sodium surface density showed clear dependence on LT and the heliocentric distance. The sodium surface density decreases from early morning to noon by a few orders, and, particularly for large heliocentric distances, the surface is in a condition of sodium excess and depletion with respect to the surface sodium density assumed by Killen et al. [2004. Source rates and ion recycling rates for Na and K in Mercury's atmosphere. Icarus 171, 1-19] in the early morning and morning-noon regions, respectively. This study implies that the decrease in sodium surface density from the early morning to noon regions might produce the characteristic LT dependence in the low-latitude dawn-side region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1681-1687
Number of pages7
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Nov


  • Local time dependence
  • Mercury
  • Simulation
  • Sodium exosphere


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