THE PLANET CLOSEST TO THE SUN CONTAINS ICE ON ITS SURFACE

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In 2012, scientists were able to discover that there exists inside the Polar Regions of Mercury, large amounts of water ice. Although the existence of water ice in this region is counter intuitive, after all, we are talking about a planet with 426 ° C on the surface, the existence of ice has been object of speculation for about 20 years. Only after the MESSENGER spacecraft has studied the polar region has this been confirmed.

 





Image: Places of ice deposits in Mercury.

Based on data from MESSENGER, it was estimated that mercury could have between 100 billion and 1 trillion tons of ice water at both poles, and that could be up to 20 meters deep in some places. However, a later study indicates that there may still be three large craters in the northern region that also contain ice.

But how is this possible?

Although it is the closest planet to the Sun (58 million kilometers away) and has scorching surface temperatures on the side facing the star, the low slope of Mercury means that its polar regions are permanently shaded and experience average temperatures of about - 73 ° C. And even without the presence of atmosphere, there is the phenomenon of thermal convection, that is, there is no heat transfer by air from the hottest regions.

The idea that ice can exist in these regions dates back to the 1990s, when radar telescopes on Earth detected highly reflective points within the polar craters. This was confirmed when the MESSENGER spacecraft detected signals that were consistent with the water ice. Since then, it has been generally agreed that the surface ice of Mercury was confirmed in seven large craters.

In addition to indicating that the Solar System is more unclean than previously believed, the presence of abundant ice in Mercury only reinforces the idea of ​​building "stations" in these bodies. These stations could be able to turn water deposits into hydrazine fuel, which would drastically reduce the costs of long-range missions throughout the solar system.

But going back a little further to our reality, these studies of Mercury also offer new insights into how the Solar System has formed and evolved.

The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first to orbit the planet Mercury, and the seven scientific instruments it carries are unrolling the story of this first planet in the order of the solar system. In just four years of mission operation, MESSENGER has acquired more than 250,000 images and many other data sets. [ UniverseToday / NASA ]

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