BU Scientists Probe Secrets Left in Mercury’s Wake

September 23, 2010

Boston University scientists working on the STEREO (Solar TErrestrial REelations Observatory) mission presented at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) meeting in Rome, Italy in September. They have found that the STEREO satellites designed to view atmosphere escaping from the sun also show new revelations about the “tail” of gasses emitting from Mercury. BU researchers working on the project are: Michael Mendillo, professor of astronomy and director of the Imaging Science Lab where the work is being done; Jeffrey Baumgartner, senior research associate in the Center for Space Physics; and Carl Schmidt, lead author on the paper presented at EPSC.

While it has been known that the Sun’s radiation pushes sodium atoms to create a tail that is hundreds of times the size of Mercury, smaller tails made up of other gasses have also been recently found. STEREO data should help researchers understand what these gasses are. The data indicates that the brightness levels are too strong to be from sodium. The Boston University group is working closely with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Chilton, England to determine the composition of the gasses.


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