Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, in fact, is only 58 million miles, nearly three times more of the sun than Earth. Thus, temperatures there really hellish values: up to 450 degrees in Ecuador. Despite that, MESSENGER, NASA, just provide unequivocal evidence of the existence of a large amount of ice on the planet, hidden inside the deep, dark craters at its north pole. An ice which also is covered with organic compounds.
Not just one, but three studies published today in Science that reveal this sensational discovery that seems, in principle, beyond all logic: the first analysis, which was used for the neutron spectrometer of the Messenger, measured an excess of hydrogen in the planet’s north pole, the second focused on the reflectance (the ability to reflect light) of Mercury’s polar deposits at a wavelength near infrared, and the third carried out the first detailed model surface temperatures of the planet, using topographic data from a year ago is collecting the ship. The findings are staggering: in Mercury water plentiful, and it is preserved in ice.
Given its proximity to the Sun, Mercury might seem the most unlikely place in the solar system for a similar finding. However, because the tilt of its axis of rotation is less than a degree , there are entire regions(in polar regions) that never receive sunlight . In these areas, temperatures drop to 185 degrees below zero. For several decades researchers consider the idea that there might be water ice (and other volatiles) confined there. But until now it was only a theory.
The idea, however, received a boost in 1991, when the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, found strange radar bright spots precisely at the poles of Mercury. Reflecting the light spots in the same way they would make the ice. Most of these spots also came precisely from a region that had been photographed two decades earlier, in the 70s, by the probe Mariner 10. A region full of deep impact craters. Unfortunately, during the Mariner mission could only see less than half the planet. Their data were too fragmentary to draw firm conclusions.
The revolutionary probe Messenger
But the arrival of the Messenger to Mercury (last year) completely changed things. The probe, in effect, has been verified beyond doubt that those bright spots 20 years ago in the Arecibo radar matched perfectly with polar shadow areas that never receive sunlight. The hypothesis of “mercurial ice”, thus gaining strength again.
But data from the Messenger have gone far beyond. Not only are there water ice in the warmer world of the Solar System, but the ice also is extremely abundant. In fact, the largest of the constituents of the deposits and its north pole, besides inside the craters, there is also very near the surface and just below a layer of a strange “dark material” appearing in almost all mineral deposits and which allows the ice to be stable. “The concentration of hydrogen in the buried layer, said David Lawrence, the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University and lead author of one of the work-is consistent with the existence of almost pure water ice.”
Ice is extremely heavy
Meanwhile, David Page, University of California, clarifies the nature of the strange “dark matter”. It says the researcher, a mixture of organic components complex horse Mercury arrived to numerous asteroids and deposited there after the impacts. This organic material may have been obscured because of the tremendous amount of radiation (from the sun) that fills the entire surface of the planet, even the darkest areas.
For Sean Solomon, the mission’s principal investigator, “for more than 20 years the jury has been deliberating on whether a planet so close to the Sun can have ice in abundance in areas of permanent shadow of its poles. Messenger now has issued a affirmative and unanimous verdict. “
However, these spectacular and unexpected data have raised, immediately, new issues. “Is that dark material polar deposits – Solomon wonders-of mainly organic compounds? What kind of chemical reactions that material has experienced? Can there be any isolated area on Mercury in which these compounds are mixed with liquid water? Only if we continuously explore Mercury can expect to make some progress and answer these questions. “