Magnetic mineralogy of the Mercurian lithosphere

1B. E. Strauss,1J. M. Feinberg,2,3C. L. Johnson
Journal of Geophysical Research, Planets Link to Article [DOI: 10.1002/2016JE005054]
1Institute for Rock Magnetism, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
2Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, VancouverBC, Canada
3Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, USA
Published by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons

Mercury and Earth are the only inner solar system planets with active, internally generated dynamo magnetic fields. The MESSENGER mission recently detected magnetic fields on Mercury that are consistent with lithospheric magnetization. We investigate the physical and chemical environment of Mercury’s lithosphere, past and present, to establish the conditions under which magnetization may have been acquired and modified. Three factors are particularly crucial to the determination of crustal composition and iron mineralogy: redox conditions in the planet’s crust and mantle, the iron content of the lithosphere, and, for any remanent magnetization, the temperature profile of the lithosphere and its evolution over time. We explore potential mechanisms for remanence acquisition and alteration on Mercury, whose surface environment is both hot and highly reducing. The long-term thermal history of Mercury’s crust plays an important role in the longevity of any remanent crustal magnetization, which may be subject to remagnetization through thermal, viscous, and shock mechanisms. This thermal and compositional framework is used both to constrain plausible candidate minerals that could carry magnetic remanence on Mercury and to evaluate their capacity to acquire and retain sufficient magnetization to be detectable from satellite orbit. We propose that iron metal and its alloys are likely to be the dominant contributors to induced and remanent magnetization in Mercury’s lithosphere, with additional contributions from iron silicides, sulfides, and carbides.


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