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The Rapid Imaging Planetary Spectrograph: Observations of Mercury's Sodium Exosphere in Twilight

Abstract : Ground-based observations of Mercury's exosphere are intrinsically difficult due to its proximity to the Sun and must be made in daylight or during brief windows at twilight. While the dimmer twilight background is far preferred, high airmass seeing and haze through Earth's atmosphere, windshake, and guiding all present formidable challenges toward spatially resolving the exosphere's structure. This study explores how such effects can be mitigated using results from a new instrument for high cadence spectroscopy, the Rapid Imaging Planetary Spectrograph. While high cadence observations do not significantly improve upon the resolution floor imposed by atmospheric seeing, the method does mitigate obstacles such as telescope tracking inaccuracy, windshake, and flux calibration. Whereas daytime observing has been the predominant methodology in past exosphere studies, the twilight observations performed here easily resolve distinct brightness enhancements near 50°-60°latitude, just equatorward of magnetic cusp regions. The exosphere in these locations is diagnostic of space weather effects such as charged particle precipitation. The structure in the sodium exosphere generally appears both more extended and brighter over the southern cusp, which has a broader open magnetic field line region. However, a northern enhancement during one observation confirms that the exosphere responds dynamically to environmental drivers, presumably changes in the solar wind dynamic pressure and/or interplanetary magnetic field.
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Carl Schmidt, Jeffrey Baumgardner, Luke Moore, Thomas A. Bida, Ryan Swindle, et al.. The Rapid Imaging Planetary Spectrograph: Observations of Mercury's Sodium Exosphere in Twilight. The Planetary Science Journal, IOP Science, 2020, 1 (1), pp.4. ⟨10.3847/PSJ/ab76c9⟩. ⟨insu-02531120⟩

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