Messenger discovers ice on Mercury, baby

Stop and listen while I elaborate on NASA's latest discovery: astronomers have theorized that Mercury might have water ice hidden in craters up around it north pole since the 1970s, but check it out yo, NASA has solved the problem with new data from the MESSENGER spacecraft that proves there's water ice on the surface. No fakin'.

Mercury, being the closest planet to the sun at 38 million miles, has an average surface temperature of about 800 degrees F during the day. This is hot enough that the place probably glows when you turn off the lights at night, and you'd think that finding water ice down there would be impossible. You'd be right, too. But unlike Earth, Mercury has an axial tilt that's close to zero, meaning that by the poles, there are areas that never get direct sunlight. And down in some shadowy craters, MESSENGER has found some fairly definitive evidence that there's ice down there. Lots of ice.

By combining data from Earth-based radar, optical cameras, and an instrument on MESSENGER called a neutron probe, NASA has determined that Mercury's north pole craters likely contain somewhere between 100 billion and one trillion tons of ice (!) buried a few centimeters beneath an insulating later of surface material. Here's a map of where you'd probably find it:

mercury_radar.jpg

All of this ice likely arrived on Mercury inside comets and asteroids. And you know what else hitches a ride on comets and asteroids? Organic molecules. So the really exciting thing here is that it sounds like there may be some spots on Mercury where there could be liquid water just beneath the surface as well, along with a soup of organic compounds. Nobody's talking about life on Mercury, but it could turn out to be a far more interesting place than we'd ever thought.

Yo man, let's get outta here. Word to your mother.

Via NASA

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