Friday, July 16, 2010

Mercury Flyby Reveals Magnetic "Power Surges"

New data from the third and final flyby of the MESSENGER spacecraft have revealed surprisingly intense electromagnetic storms in Mercury's magnetic "tail," part of the planet's magnetic field. Such tails form when the solar wind—charged particles streaming from the sun—pushes on a planet's magnetic field.

During a September 29, 2009, flyby of the tiny planet, MESSENGER watched as Mercury's magnetic tail collected enormous amounts of energy from the solar wind. In just 90 seconds, the tail increased magnetic field power by 200 percent during an event known as a magnetic substorm. The tail then snapped back to normal, dissipating the energy over the next minute and a half.

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