Water Found On Mercury | Out Of This World Weekly

Mercury is hot.  800 degrees Fahrenheit hot during Mercury’s 29 Earth day long daytime.  The extremely close proximity to the Sun makes this the least likely place in the Solar System to find water.  Even so, NASA’s Messenger mission to Mercury has used 2 instruments to confirm water on that planet with the help of the Arecibo radio telescope here on Earth.  It seems that ice water is able to exist on Mercury in deep craters near the poles of the planet.  These craters never see sunlight and thus never reach the excruciatingly hot temperatures that would melt the ice almost instantly.  Since there is no atmosphere on the planet, the heat on the day side is not distributed through the atmosphere to the polar regions.  This unexpected discovery is mirrored by the discovery of water in the form of ice on the Moon, which has also been found in deep craters near the poles that never see sunlight. 

Mercury is cold.  -280 degrees Fahrenheit during Mercury’s 29 Earth day long nighttime.  This temperature is far closer to what would be found in the dark polar craters that house the water ice, meaning that the ice water would most likely never unfreeze into a liquid state even if there was enough atmospheric pressure to keep it from unfreezing directly into water vapor.  The numerous craters of Mercury suggest that at some point water would have been delivered to Mercury from either Asteroids or more likely Comets.  This would also explain why Carbon was detected on the surface of some of the ice, as Comets are referred to as either icy dirtballs or dirty iceballs.  This layer of Carbon may also be serving as an insulator, helping to regulate the temperature of the ice that it is covering so that it doesn’t reach vaporization temperatures as easily.  At this time it is thought that while water and carbon are building blocks of life, life is most likely not able to form on Mercury due to the extreme conditions found there. 

Water is very important to us and our spacecraft.  While any manned mission to Mercury was considered impossible, this discovery may actually make it possible to one day visit Mercury.  Most likely if ice can survive on Mercury, we might actually be able to survive the temperatures on Mercury as well.  When the water is broken down into Hydrogen and Oxygen, we will even have rocket fuel to make it back to Earth.  The deposits of Carbon would even give us something to study besides the rocks and radiation.  While it is definitely too early to think about a trip to Mercury soon, this discovery does mean that it could eventually be done. 

If we have found water in such an inhospitable environment as Mercury, it is possible to exist on other planets that orbit very close to their suns?  A high percentage of the planets that we are finding around other stars are as close or even closer than Mercury is to our Sun.  If these planets also have craters, then there could be a possibility that water could be found there as well.  This is great for exploration of other solar systems such as Alpha Centauri, which was recently found to have an Earth sized planet orbiting very close to it’s star.  Since Alpha Centauri is our closest Star neighbor, it might even be possible to establish polar bases on that planet that would survive the extreme heat that is found on that planet.  There might even be water there and that might make the first permanent base outside our solar system possible.  Water is essential to us and everywhere we find it is yet another place that we will be eventually able to visit, so finding it in such a unexpected place as Mercury bodes well for the human race. 

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