Evolution of Mercury’s Earliest Atmosphere

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Evolution of Mercury’s Earliest Atmosphere

Press Release
From: arXiv.org e-Print archive
Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Noah Jäggi, Diana Gamborino, Dan J. Bower, Paolo A. Sossi, Aaron S. Wolf, Apurva V. Oza, Audrey Vorburger, André Galli, Peter Wurz

MESSENGER observations suggest a magma ocean formed on proto-Mercury, during which evaporation of metals and outgassing of C- and H-bearing volatiles produced an early atmosphere. Atmospheric escape subsequently occurred by plasma heating, photoevaporation, Jeans escape, and photoionization. To quantify atmospheric loss, we combine constraints on the lifetime of surficial melt, melt composition, and atmospheric composition. Consideration of two initial Mercury sizes and four magma ocean compositions determine the atmospheric speciation at a given surface temperature. A coupled interior-atmosphere model determines the cooling rate and therefore the lifetime of surficial melt. Combining the melt lifetime and escape flux calculations provide estimates for the total mass loss from early Mercury. Loss rates by Jeans escape are negligible. Plasma heating and photoionization are limited by homopause diffusion rates of ∼106 kg/s. Loss by photoevaporation depends on the timing of Mercury formation and assumed heating efficiency and ranges from ∼106.6 to ∼109.6 kg/s. The material for photoevaporation is sourced from below the homopause and is therefore energy-limited rather than diffusion-limited. The timescale for efficient interior-atmosphere chemical exchange is less than ten thousand years. Therefore, escape processes only account for an equivalent loss of less than 2.3 km of crust (0.3% of Mercury’s mass). Accordingly, ≤0.02% of the total mass of H2O and Na is lost. Therefore, cumulative loss cannot significantly modify Mercury’s bulk mantle composition during the magma ocean stage. Mercury’s high core:mantle ratio and volatile-rich surface may instead reflect chemical variations in its building blocks resulting from its solar-proximal accretion environment.

Comments: 25 pages, 8 figures, accepted to be published in The Planetary Science Journal

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

Cite as: arXiv:2110.08093 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2110.08093v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history

From: Noah Jäggi 

[v1] Fri, 15 Oct 2021 13:41:43 UTC (2,224 KB)

https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.08093

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