Frosty on Mercury

Your average science fiction reader probably includes Mercury, planet closest to the Sun, on the list of places where having “a snowman’s chance” is a bad thing. However, that depends where the snowman is standing. If it’s in a crater near Mercury’s north pole, he may be quite comfortable.

Two decades ago, Earth-based radar images of Mercury showed polar deposits that were predicted to consist of water ice. That was confirmed by NASA’s Mercury Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft through instrument measurements. Now MESSENGER also also provided optical images of the ice and other frozen volatile materials within the permanently shadowed craters around the planet’s north pole.

Nancy Chabot, the Instrument Scientist for MESSENGER’s Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) and a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is on her way to unraveling the next mystery:

“One of the big questions we’ve been grappling with is ‘When did Mercury’s water ice deposits show up?’ Are they billions of years old, or were they emplaced only recently?” Chabot said. “Understanding the age of these deposits has implications for understanding the delivery of water to all the terrestrial planets, including Earth.”

Overall, the images indicate that Mercury’s polar deposits either were delivered to the planet recently or are regularly restored at the surface through an ongoing process.

[Thanks to James H. Burns for the link.]

3 thoughts on “Frosty on Mercury

  1. I saw those photos on the NASA site. Photos of ice? Well… it looked more like a pool of tar, to me. Maybe it’s ice, but it must be mixed with dirt or covered with it to look that dark. At that, it’s only visible by computer enhancement that “stretches” the contrast, so that brightly lit parts of the surface are over-saturated and the shadowed areas become merely dark instead of pitch black. Is it ice? NASA’s radar says it is. But you wouldn’t know it to look at it. I’m not sure I’d call this “visual evidence.”

  2. So maybe future ice miners on Mercury?? Why not? Think of the solar power potential on the sunny side of those crater walls! I’ld watch out for solar flares, however.

  3. I cee your point, Taral! And as a Canadian, I can regard your expertise in frozen assets! But imagine if we could get Icky Woods on our first manned Mercury mission: Then he could do the “Icee Shuffle!”

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