Dating Mercury’s Magnetic Field. New Research Says It’s Nearly 4 Billion Years Old
Dating Mercury’s Magnetic Field. New Research Says It’s Nearly 4 Billion Years Old

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft may no longer be with us, but the information it gathered is still making new discoveries possible. Researchers now have a good idea of how old Mercury’s magnetic field is.

Mercury having a magnetic field isn’t new. But, as MESSENGER orbited lower and lower, its magnetometer picked up tiny signals of magnetization in Mercury’s crust. These signals helped reveal the age of Mercury’s magnetic field – at least 3.7 billion to 3.9 billion years old.

“If we didn’t have these recent observations, we would never have known how Mercury’s magnetic field evolved over time,” said Catherine Johnson, a University of British Columbia planetary scientist and lead author on the new study. “It’s just been waiting to tell us its story.”

Mercury is a fascinating planet. Besides Earth, it’s the only planet in the inner solar system that has a magnetic field. Evidence suggests Mars also had a magnetic field, but it disappeared more than 3 billion years ago.

Messenger last image

The last image captured by MESSENGER.

According to Discovery News, dating Mercury’s magnetic field also gives researchers clues as to when and how the innermost planet’s liquid iron core formed.

In the study’s abstract, the authors write:

Our findings indicate that a global magnetic field driven by dynamo processes in the fluid outer core operated early in Mercury’s history. Ancient field strengths that range from those similar to Mercury’s present dipole field to Earth-like values are consistent with the magnetic field observations and with the low iron content of Mercury’s crust inferred from MESSENGER elemental composition data.

MESSENGER’s legacy will continue to live on. Researchers will keep sifting through data collected by the spacecraft for months. It won’t be the last we hear from MESSENGER and discoveries on Mercury.

The next visitor to Mercury

The European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have big plans for Mercury. BepiColombo, a joint mission between the two agencies, is expected to launch on January 27, 2017.

The mission will consist of two orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. Primary mission objectives center on the planet’s magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure, and surface.

While today’s discovery provides clues about the origins of Mercury’s magnetic field, BepiColombo will try to nail it down.

The spacecraft will conduct several flybys of Venus and Mercury before settling into an orbit on January 1, 2024.

Want to learn more about the BepiColombo mission? The ESA page dives into the technical specs of the spacecraft and mission.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Your Daily Dose of the Best the Internet Has to Offer

You May Also Like

Hubble’s Powerful Optics Received a Gravity Assist to Spot a Single Star 9 Billion Light Years Away

Officially designated MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1 (nicknamed Icarus), this star is…

New Horizons Gets Its First Glimpse of 2014 MU69 (aka Ultima Thule)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is just over four months away from passing…

An Upgraded SpaceX Boat Will Try to Catch a Rocket Fairing During Wednesday’s Launch (UPDATE)

Tomorrow morning’s launch has all the SpaceX goodness we’ve come to expect.…

Hurricane Florence is a Beast from 254 Miles Above

As expected, the Atlantic Ocean is seeing a flurry of tropical activity.…

NASA’s Hardy Opportunity Rover Has Made It Through a Martian Dust Storm Before

NASA’s Opportunity Rover wasn’t even designed to make it through a dust…