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Mercury’s Space Environment: building on recent explorations of the space environment of Mercury using MESSENGER data

Project Description

The University of Leicester has a research team focusing on understanding the space environment of Mercury, in preparation for the recently-launched ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury, for which the University of Leicester have built the MIXS (Mercury imaging X-ray spectrometer) instrument and have a PI instrument role.

Current Mercury research is based on the unique dataset taken from Mercury orbit by the NASA MESSENGER spacecraft between 2011 and 2015. We have, for example, studied the properties of the solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field near Mercury and the highly dynamic coupling between the magnetosphere of Mercury and the solar wind. We have demonstrated the effect of energetic electrons impacting the planetary surface and generating fluorescent X-ray emissions using the X-ray spectrometer instrument on MESSENGER (Image 1 from Lindsay et al., 2016), and have recently published the first major statistical survey of Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves in the magnetosphere of Mercury using magnetic field data from MESSENGER (Image 2 from James et al., 2016). We have been able to demonstrate that such waves can indicate the location of the open-closed field line boundary at Mercury, provided evidence that the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability may be driving wave activity, and estimated the local plasma mass density.

This project will build on these recent explorations of the space environment of Mercury using MESSENGER data. These fundamental investigations into the nature of the Mercury space environment and its coupling to the planetary surface form an essential part of our preparation for the BepiColombo mission science exploitation phase.

Funding Notes

This project is eligible for a fully funded STFC studentship which includes :
· A full UK/EU fee waiver for 3.5 years
· An annual tax free stipend of £14,777 (2018/19)
· Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
· Conference Fees & UK Fieldwork

Studentships are available to UK/EU applicants who meet the STFC Residency Criteria; if you have been ordinarily resident in the UK for three years you will normally be entitled to apply for a full studentship.


Anderson, B., M. Acuña, D. Lohr, J. Scheifele, A. Raval, H. Korth, and J. Slavin (2007), The Magnetometer instrument on MESSENGER, Space Sci. Rev., 131(1–4), 417–450, doi:10.1007/s11214-007-9246-7.

Imber, S. M., J. A. Slavin, S. A. Boardsen, B. J. Anderson, H. Korth, R. L. McNutt, and S. C. Solomon (2014), MESSENGER observations of large dayside flux transfer events: Do they drive Mercury’s substorm cycle?, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 119, 5613–5623, doi:10.1002/2014JA019884.

Lindsay S. T. , M. K. James, E. J. Bunce, S. M. Imber, H. Korth, A. Martindale and T. K. Yeoman (2016), MESSENGER X-ray observations of magnetosphere–surface interaction on the nightside of Mercury , Planetary and Space Science ,125, 72–79, doi: 10.1016/j.pss.2016.03.005

James, M. K., E. J. Bunce, T. K. Yeoman, S. M. Imber, and H. Korth (2016), A statistical survey of ultralow-frequency wave power and polarization in the Hermean magnetosphere, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 121, 8755–8772, doi:10.1002/2016JA023103.

James, M. K., S. M. Imber, E. J. Bunce, T. K. Yeoman, M. Lockwood, M. J. Owens, and J. A. Slavin (2017), Interplanetary magnetic field properties and variability near Mercury’s orbit, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 122, 7907–7924, doi:10.1002/2017JA024435.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Leicester in Physics?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 49.33

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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