Flux ropes in the Hermean magnetotail: Distribution, properties, and formation

A. W. Smith*, J. A. Slavin, C. M. Jackman, G. K. Poh, R. C. Fear

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


An automated method was applied to identify magnetotail flux rope encounters in MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) magnetometer data. The method identified significant deflections of the north-south component of the magnetic field coincident with enhancements in the total field or dawn-dusk component. Two hundred forty-eight flux ropes are identified that possess well-defined minimum variance analysis (MVA) coordinate systems, with clear rotations of the field. Approximately 30% can be well approximated by the cylindrically symmetric, linearly force-free model. Flux ropes are most common moving planetward, in the postmidnight sector. Observations are intermittent, with the majority (61%) of plasma sheet passages yielding no flux ropes; however, the peak rate of flux ropes during a reconnection episode is ∼5 min−1. Overall, the peak postmidnight rate is ∼0.25 min−1. Only 25% of flux ropes are observed in isolation. The radius of flux ropes is comparable to the ion inertial length within Mercury's magnetotail plasma sheet. No clear statistical separation is observed between tailward and planetward moving flux ropes, suggesting the near-Mercury neutral line (NMNL) is highly variable. Flux ropes are more likely to be observed if the preceding lobe field is enhanced over background levels. A very weak correlation is observed between the flux rope core field and the preceding lobe field orientation; a stronger relationship is found with the orientation of the field within the plasma sheet. The core field strength measured is ∼6 times stronger than the local dawn-dusk plasma sheet magnetic field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8136-8153
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


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