Large ice deposits found on Mercury

2012-11-30 09:36

((AFP))

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington – Scientists announced new evidence that Mercury, the planet orbiting nearest the Sun, hosts massive caches of ice and revealed new information on how water reached our solar system's inner planets.

"The new data indicate the water ice in Mercury's polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington DC, would be more than 3.2km thick," David Lawrence, a researcher participating with NASA's mission to study Mercury, said.

Though much of Mercury is boiling hot, its axis of rotation is nearly parallel to the Sun, which means the poles of the planet are never hit by the Sun's heating rays.

Scientists have long hypothesized these shadowy poles could harbor frozen water and other interesting materials.

In 1991, that theory got a boost when a powerful telescope in Puerto Rico detected "radar-bright patches" at the poles, often in spots where a previous mission in the 1970s had found large impact craters.

Findings

For the first time, new data from the MESSENGER spacecraft, which landed on Mercury in 2011, allows for a detailed model of just what's going on at Mercury's mysterious poles.

Images from MESSENGER confirmed that the radar-bright patches are all within cooler, shadowed regions, consistent with the theory they could be ice spots.

The spacecraft's neutron spectrometer also analysed hydrogen concentrations as a way of determining the presence of water, which is a molecule composed of hydrogen and oxygen.

In the coldest spots, the water was on the surface, but in slightly warmer regions, where the ice might have melted, it was covered by a dark material with a lower concentration of hydrogen.

The researchers said this dark material could actually be the key to explaining how the water got there in the first place.

The dark material, which serves as insulation, is likely a mix of complex organic compounds, which were "delivered to Mercury by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids," David Paige, another researcher involved in the project, explained.

Those comets and asteroids, he added, were "the same objects that likely delivered water to the innermost planet."

"For more than 20 years the jury has been deliberating on whether the planet closest to the Sun hosts abundant water ice in its permanently shadowed polar regions," Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said.

"MESSENGER has now supplied a unanimous affirmative verdict," Solomon, the principal investigator of the MESSENGER mission, said.

"But the new observations have also raised new questions," he added. "Do the dark materials in the polar deposits consist mostly of organic compounds? What kind of chemical reactions has that material experienced?

"Are there any regions on or within Mercury that might have both liquid water and organic compounds? Only with the continued exploration of Mercury can we hope to make progress on these new questions," he said.

Three papers describing the MESSENGER findings were published Thursday in the online edition of Science Express.

Read more on:    space  |  nasa
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
8 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

Summer Survey!
Great ideas for the best summer sandwiches!
Christmas lingerie to make this festive season the best one ever!
13 things you might not know about Disneyland

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

The energy today is serious, materialistic and hardworking. You may find you get a new outlook on things and you may want to spend...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.