Schematic Illustration of the Operation of MESSENGER's Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (GRS)
Galactic cosmic rays interact with the surface of Mercury to a depth of tens of centimeters, producing high-energy (“fast”) neutrons. These neutrons further interact with surface material, resulting in the emission of gamma rays with energies characteristic of the emitting elements and low-energy (“slow”) neutrons. Naturally occurring radioactive elements such as potassium (K), thorium (Th), and uranium (U) also emit gamma rays. Detection of the gamma rays and neutrons by GRS allows determination of the chemical composition of the surface.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington