Mercury showed strong evidences of water ice in the NASA’s spacecraft; Research

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft has found new and strong evidence for the frozen water and other liquid materials under shadowed polar craters.

This research along with the other two related researches has been published online in Science Express.

Mosaic of MESSENGER images of Mercury North Pole (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory)

MESSENGER approached Mars in March 2011 and is studying its surface since then.

“The new data indicate the water ice in Mercury’s polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington, D.C., would be more than 2 miles thick,” David Lawrence, a MESSENGER participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and lead author of one of three papers describing the findings, Thermal Stability of Volatiles in the North Polar Region of Mercury..

Spacecraft has found excess amount of hydrogen at Mercury’s North Pole with the help of neutron spectrometer and concentrations of water ice are obtained from the hydrogen measurements.

Although, Mercury was not considered as the place to support ice due to its proximity to the Sun but as its rotational axis is less than 1 degree, so there are some places in the planet’s poles where sunlight never approaches. New observations from the MESSENGER spacecraft suggest that ice is the main component in the Mercury’s north polar deposits. Moreover, ice is exposed in the coldest areas and is buried under dark materials where temperature is slightly warm.

“We estimate from our neutron measurements the water ice lies beneath a layer that has much less hydrogen. The surface layer is between 10 and 20 centimeters [4-8 inches] thick,” Lawrence said.

In the other paper, by Gregory Neumann of NASA’s Goddard Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and collaborators, scientists have found random dark and bright deposits at near-infrared wavelength near Mercury’s north pole.

“Nobody had seen these dark regions on Mercury before, so they were mysterious at first,” Neumann said.

These dark patches have been found with reduced reflectance showing that the ice is covered with thermally insulating layer. In the third paper, David Paige of the University of California at Los Angeles and collaborators, scientists wrote, “Impacts of comets or volatile-rich asteroids could have provided both the dark and bright deposits.”

“The dark material is likely a mix of complex organic compounds delivered to Mercury by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids, the same objects that likely delivered water to the innermost planet,” Paige said.


David A. Paige, Matthew A. Siegler, John K. Harmon, Gregory A. Neumann, Erwan M. Mazarico, David E. Smith, Maria T. Zuber, Ellen Harju, Mona L. Delitsky, and Sean C. Solomon, (2012). Evidence for Water Ice Near Mercury’s North Pole from MESSENGER Neutron Spectrometer Measurements. Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1231106

David J. Lawrence, William C. Feldman, John O. Goldsten, Sylvestre Maurice, Patrick N. Peplowski, Brian J. Anderson, David Bazell, Ralph L. McNutt Jr., Larry R. Nittler, Thomas H. Prettyman, Douglas J. Rodgers, Sean C. Solomon, and Shoshana Z. Weider, (2012). Evidence for Water Ice Near Mercury’s North Pole from MESSENGER Neutron Spectrometer Measurements. Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1229953

Gregory A. Neumann, John F. Cavanaugh, Xiaoli Sun, Erwan M. Mazarico, David E. Smith, Maria T. Zuber, Dandan Mao, David A. Paige, Sean C. Solomon, Carolyn M. Ernst, and Olivier S. Barnouin, (2012). Bright and Dark Polar Deposits on Mercury: Evidence for Surface Volatiles. Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1229764

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