Visit our corporate site. The atoms in these atmospheres do not collide with each other; rather, they bounce from place to place on the surface. Mercury is the smallest and least massive of the eight planets. Both Mercury and the Moon have very tenuous atmospheres that are often referred to as surface-bounded exospheres. Of all the planets in the solar system, Mercury has the thinnest atmosphere, thinner than even Mars. While the magnetic field is nearly 150 times weaker than our own on Earth, this magnetic fields helps hold its atmosphere in place by reducing the impact of the solar winds. The processes that release atoms to Mercury's exosphere and that subsequently affect them differ in magnitude depending on the element. Sources for the known exospheric species include impact vaporization, ion sputtering, thermal- and photon-stimulated desorption, crustal outgassing, and neutralization of solar wind ions. These nonanthropogenic mercury emissions are largely elemental, and result from both out-gassing from the earth's crust and surface waters and the re emission of previously deposited anthropogenic mercury (especially in forest fires). In Earth's atmosphere, the exosphere is the highest part of the atmosphere where the density of gas molecules is very low. Mercury has a very tenuous and highly variable atmosphere (surface-bound exosphere) containing hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and water vapor, with a combined pressure level of about 10−14 bar (1 nPa). A planet as small and as hot as Mercury has no possibility of retaining a significant atmosphere, if it ever had one. This leads to greater release of material through PSD than in the absence of ion sputtering, by a process known as ion-enhanced PSD. Schematic illustration showing the source and loss processes responsible for the generation and maintenance of Mercury's exosphere.
The methane in Mercury’s atmosphere is believed to come from volcanism, geothermal processes, and hydrothermal activity. The susceptibility of the ice to subliming away slowly—e.g., from the slight warmth of sunlight reflected from distant mountains or crater rims—is reduced because it is cloaked by an insulating debris layer, or regolith, about 10–20 cm (4–8 inches) thick, made of organic compounds that also arrived on Mercury in cometary and asteroidal impacts.
Measurements by Messenger’s magnetometer, made during the spacecraft’s first flyby in January 2008, confirm that Mercury’s magnetic field is basically dipolar.
A measure of the extent of vaporization is the vapor pressure which is the partial pressure exerted by the gas phase in equilibrium with the liquid phase. The final atmospheric process in the mercury biogeochemical cycle is deposition. Solar light pushes the atmospheric gases away from the Sun, creating a comet-like tail behind the planet.
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