Observations from MESSENGER's MAG and FIPS instruments during the first orbital year have resulted in the identification of 25 magnetopause crossings in Mercury's magnetosphere with significant low-latitude boundary layers (LLBLs). Of these crossings 72% are observed dawnside, and 65% for northward interplanetary magnetic field.
The estimated LLBL thickness is 450 ± 56 km, and increases with distance to noon. The Na+-group ion is sporadically present in 14 of the boundary layers, with an observed average number density of 22 ± 11% of the proton density. Furthermore, the average Na+-group gyroradii in the layers is 220 ± 34 km, the same order of magnitude as the LLBL thickness.
Magnetic shear, plasma β and reconnection rates have been estimated for the LLBL crossings, and compared to those of a control group (non-LLBL) of 61 distinct magnetopause crossings which show signs of nearly no plasma inside the magnetopause. The results indicate that reconnection is significantly slower, or even suppressed, for the LLBL crossings compared to the non-LLBL cases.
Possible processes that form or impact the LLBL are discussed. Protons injected through the cusp or flank may be important for the formation of the LLBL. Furthermore, the opposite asymmetry in the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) as compared to the LLBL, rules out the KHI as a dominant formation mechanism. However, the KHI and LLBL could be related to each other, either by the impact of sodium ions gyrating across the magnetopause, or by the LLBL preventing the growth of KH waves on the dawnside.
Blackwell Publishing, 2015. Vol. 120, no 10