Tags: ice | mercury | nasa | messenger

Ice Detected Under Mercury’s Scalding Surface by NASA’s Messenger

Friday, 30 Nov 2012 12:09 PM

By Michael Mullins

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There’s enough frozen water beneath the scorching-hot surface of the planet Mercury to completely cover all of Washington, D.C., according to recent findings of NASA’s Messenger spacecraft.

Mercury is the closest celestial body orbiting the sun, and its surface temperature can exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, but the huge amount of ice is located in permanently shadowed craters in the planet’s north pole.

The findings were obtained by three separate instruments on Messenger that measured near-surface temperatures as well as the planet’s actual topography.

“The buried layer has a hydrogen content consistent with nearly pure water ice,” said David Lawrence, a scientist participating in the Messenger project at Johns Hopkins University.

“If you add it all up, you have on the order of 100 billion to 1 trillion metric tons of ice . . . The uncertainty on that number is just how deep it goes . . . These are very exciting results.”

Scientists believe the ice exists in subterranean deposits that can range in depth from 18 inches to 65 feet.

The recent findings support decades of suggestions and hypothesis from scientists who believed in the presence of ice at Mercury’s poles.

Messenger is the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, having been launched in 2004. It has been circling the planet for the past 18 months.

In addition to confirming the existence of ice on Mercury, scientists also believe that a “complex mix of organic materials” similar to the material that eventually gave rise to life on Earth, is present inside the ice deposits.

The ice was delivered to Mercury by impacting comets, according to NASA. The findings were released by NASA on Thursday through Science Express.

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