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False-colour image of sodium in Mercury atmosphere

False-colour image of sodium in Mercury atmosphere

R320/0033

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Credit

A.E.POTTER & T.H.MORGAN / NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY A.E.POTTER & T.H.MORGAN / NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

False-colour images of reflected sunlight (left) and atmospheric sodium (right) on Mercury, made at the Kitt Peak Solar Observatory over a period of 3 days. The red-dotted areas denote Mercury's night side. The distribution of sodium in the atmosphere shows a strong daily variation, mainly around the poles (red/yellow or green). This suggests that sodium vapour density is related to magnetic influences. The magnetic field causes electrons and sodium ions to migrate to the surface near the poles. There the ions are neutralised by the electrons and are released as a vapour, or are simply ejected by the strong magnetic field.

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