Abundant Water Ice Discovered on Mercury |
Mercury, the smallest and innermost planet in our solar system, revolves around the sun in a mere 88 days, making a tight orbit that keeps the planet incredibly toasty. Surface temperatures on Mercury can reach a blistering 800 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to liquefy lead.
Now researchers from NASA, MIT, the University of California at Los Angeles and elsewhere have discovered evidence that the scorching planet may harbor pockets of water ice, along with organic material, in several permanently shadowed craters near Mercury’s north pole.
The surprising discovery suggests to scientists that both ice and organic material, such as carbon, may have been deposited on Mercury’s surface by impacts from comets or asteroids. Over time, this volatile material could then have migrated to the planet’s poles.
“We thought the most exciting finding could be that this really was water ice,” says Maria Zuber, the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and a member of the research team. “But the identification of darker, insulating material that may indicate complex organics makes the story even more thrilling.”
Zuber and her colleagues published their results this week in the journal Science. continue reading