NASA Confirms Ice at Mercury's Pole

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NASA Confirms Ice at Mercury's Pole

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Despite the sweltering heat at its equator, the closest planet to the Sun harbors ice at its pole.

While the temperature on Mercury can reach a profound 800 degrees Fahrenheit, due to its lack of atmosphere and other factors, the shadowed craters of the poles can show temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero. This, along with decades-old radio data, has led scientists over the years to postulate that there may be ice at Mercury's poles, but until now that was only speculation. NASA's Messenger, which launched in 2004 and started its orbit around Mercury in March of 2011, has confirmed the existence of water ice in the deep craters of Mercury's poles. The data suggests that there are billions of tons of water ice, rather than just trace amounts.

Using the craft's neutron spectrometer, Messenger measures neutrons streaming off the planet's surface and uses that data to infer what sort of material covers the area. Sean Solomon, principal investigator for Messenger, explains, "Neutrons are generated when cosmic rays hit a planet," elaborating, "Hydrogen is the best absorber of neutrons, so a neutron spectrometer looks for the signature of hydrogen near the surface by looking for decrease in the flux of neutrons coming from the planet."

So when measuring the neutron flux at the pole, Messenger discovered that there were fewer particles flying off the surface of the planet, which implies the presence of H2O, due to the Hydrogen absorbing neutrons. This is in contrast to some earlier suggestions which posited that the recorded reflection of radio waves two decades ago may be due to the presence of some other reflective material. The alternate materials, however, would not show the same neutron absorption that water does, leaving water ice as the only explanation.

"The surprise that we received on making the first chemical measurements of Mercury was that none of the theories for how Mercury was assembled are correct," Solomon said, "So we're having to rewrite the books on how Mercury was assembled, and by implication how all the inner planets were assembled."

Source: BBC

Image: NASA

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Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

thesilentman:
Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

Yes that's what the article says. As Mercury doesn't hold any of it's heat any place that isn't directly blasted by the sun is freezing cold. Apparently there are enough of those places for Mercury to hold a metric fuckton of water ice.

And how did it get there? Well water is amazingly abundant in outer space. Our planets were formed out of all kinds of debris, also containing water. Not to mention comets and all that jazz.

I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

When I first read that I thought that was NASA's big news they had announced. Then I realized it wasn't December 3rd yet. And then I realized that news was supposed to be a find of Mars Curiosity.

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

Have you ever seen the Doctor Who special Waters of Mars? Ah, who am I kidding, you're a 22 year old Londoner. Either you've seen it or you're a bloody disgrace to your nation!

First thoughts on news before clicking:

Queens lead singer has a frozen wang?

Then I read its the planet and I think "Must be extremly cold at night."

thesilentman:
Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

Impacts of comet like objects at early in the planets formation, before the sun went critical and started fusing. Thats the latest theory anyway.

Quaxar:
When I first read that I thought that was NASA's big news they had announced. Then I realized it wasn't December 3rd yet. And then I realized that news was supposed to be a find of Mars Curiosity.

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

Have you ever seen the Doctor Who special Waters of Mars? Ah, who am I kidding, you're a 22 year old Londoner. Either you've seen it or you're a bloody disgrace to your nation!

Heh, I guess I better go reserve a place at Tower Bridge because I haven't seen that special. I stopped watching when David Tennant left, and I only watched some of those specials.

I guess I'll start watching again sometime, but for now I can't afford it. First world problems aye.

CardinalPiggles:

Quaxar:
When I first read that I thought that was NASA's big news they had announced. Then I realized it wasn't December 3rd yet. And then I realized that news was supposed to be a find of Mars Curiosity.

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

Have you ever seen the Doctor Who special Waters of Mars? Ah, who am I kidding, you're a 22 year old Londoner. Either you've seen it or you're a bloody disgrace to your nation!

Heh, I guess I better go reserve a place at Tower Bridge because I haven't seen that special. I stopped watching when David Tennant left, and I only watched some of those specials.

I guess I'll start watching again sometime, but for now I can't afford it. First world problems aye.

This is definitely one to watch if any (apart of course from The End of Time). The Doctor completely alone without a companion to restrict him, the rise and fall of a Time Lord's ego as he thinks himself above the rules of fixed events... good old RTD writing.

Also, do you mean the Tower of London or is there something I don't know about the bridge?

THis is actually kinda surprising, that there'd be ANYTHING on mercury. WIth its proximity to the sun, the speed of its rotation and orbit, the planet nearly doesn't have an atmosphere, it has practically no surface features. It's a hot, barren rock.

Quaxar:
Also, do you mean the Tower of London or is there something I don't know about the bridge?

That's embarrassing!

I need some sleep...

I remember hearing that there craters near the poles that were never exposed to sunlight, but this isn't that.
Been a big week for the inner solar system hasn't it?

RaikuFA:
First thoughts on news before clicking:

Queens lead singer has a frozen wang?

Then I read its the planet and I think "Must be extremly cold at night."

I know that's probably not what you really thought, but I still laughed
image

CardinalPiggles:

Quaxar:
Also, do you mean the Tower of London or is there something I don't know about the bridge?

That's embarrassing!

I need some sleep...

Get the emergency crumpets, he's having a Britdown!

Mercury?
Messenger?
...
....
I GET IT! :D

ShadowKatt:
THis is actually kinda surprising, that there'd be ANYTHING on mercury. WIth its proximity to the sun, the speed of its rotation and orbit, the planet nearly doesn't have an atmosphere, it has practically no surface features. It's a hot, barren rock.

"Ogilvy the Astronomer assured me we were in no danger. He was convinced there could be no living thing on the remote, foreboding planet..."

Man... I need to brush up on my chem..

thesilentman:
Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

I'm VERY confused now. The heat of the sun is not strictly a line-of-sight ordeal. The light is, but the heat gets caught in the atmosphere and circulates. There shouldn't be anything frozen on Mercury. Aye, the poles are the weakest points of effect on any planet, but doesn't lead BOIL down there?

I wouldn't wager a snowball's chance in hell.

FalloutJack:

thesilentman:
Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

I'm VERY confused now. The heat of the sun is not strictly a line-of-sight ordeal. The light is, but the heat gets caught in the atmosphere and circulates. There shouldn't be anything frozen on Mercury. Aye, the poles are the weakest points of effect on any planet, but doesn't lead BOIL down there?

I wouldn't wager a snowball's chance in hell.

Mercury has no atmosphere, thus there is nothing to circulate the heat it receives from the Sun. Any spot on the planet not in direct sunlight will be a couple hundred degrees below zero. Some craters at Mercury's poles have spots which never receive sunlight; these spots are where the water would be located (same as with on the moon).

Karthesios:

FalloutJack:

thesilentman:
Isn't Mercury very cold during its "night"? If so, that explains the ice. But how'd the water get there? ...

I'm VERY confused now. The heat of the sun is not strictly a line-of-sight ordeal. The light is, but the heat gets caught in the atmosphere and circulates. There shouldn't be anything frozen on Mercury. Aye, the poles are the weakest points of effect on any planet, but doesn't lead BOIL down there?

I wouldn't wager a snowball's chance in hell.

Mercury has no atmosphere, thus there is nothing to circulate the heat it receives from the Sun. Any spot on the planet not in direct sunlight will be a couple hundred degrees below zero. Some craters at Mercury's poles have spots which never receive sunlight; these spots are where the water would be located (same as with on the moon).

Ah...I mistakenly assumed it had at least a small thin one. Hmmm, what about convection? In such close proximity, surely the planet is heated enough through its more solid matter thoroughly?

FalloutJack:

Karthesios:

FalloutJack:

I'm VERY confused now. The heat of the sun is not strictly a line-of-sight ordeal. The light is, but the heat gets caught in the atmosphere and circulates. There shouldn't be anything frozen on Mercury. Aye, the poles are the weakest points of effect on any planet, but doesn't lead BOIL down there?

I wouldn't wager a snowball's chance in hell.

Mercury has no atmosphere, thus there is nothing to circulate the heat it receives from the Sun. Any spot on the planet not in direct sunlight will be a couple hundred degrees below zero. Some craters at Mercury's poles have spots which never receive sunlight; these spots are where the water would be located (same as with on the moon).

Ah...I mistakenly assumed it had at least a small thin one. Hmmm, what about convection? In such close proximity, surely the planet is heated enough through its more solid matter thoroughly?

The thing is that the sun sends out energy, the object being hit absorbs it and sends out equal amounts of energy as the energy it absorbs. The atmosphere prevents some measure of that energy from escaping. With the lack of atmosphere though all of the energy absorbed is also released meaning that the core wont heat up and spread the heat to any significant degree thus making it incredibly cold once the sun doesn't shine directly on it.

Now I'm not an astrophysicist and I have only had a little physics on university level so this is probably at least a little inaccurate if not a misunderstanding from my side.

Yopaz:
SNIP

I'm willing to chalk this up to "We don't know for damn sure!" if you are.

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

Flooding the earth :D

Anyway, this would make colonizing Mercury a possibility. Mercury is most likely composed of the most heavy materials out there, meaning that if we do finally get off this rock it would be a possible mining planet. We can deal with the freezing cold, just redirect heat from the scalding hot side to the cold side (EXTREMELY SIMPLIFIED).

great place to build a prison....

image

FalloutJack:
Ah...I mistakenly assumed it had at least a small thin one. Hmmm, what about convection? In such close proximity, surely the planet is heated enough through its more solid matter thoroughly?

Convection requires that some form of medium for the heat transfer, and that medium must be able to flow. If you think about a convection oven versus a standard one, there is a fan which blows air around in a convection oven. That allows the air to serve as a means for heat transfer so your food cooks more evenly and faster. In a (near) vacuum, there really isn't (significant) transfer via convection. The posted above me shows, well, Hollywood convection.

With convection out of the picture, you're left with conduction and radiation for heat transfer. Rock is a lousy thermal conductor, and radiation is the least effective means, not to mention that the poles, due to their very narrow angle to the sun, would receive very, very little light in the first place.

This is cool but when this story sits next to this on the news feed, one can't help but think that the quest to discover evidence of Unicorns outweighs the importance of anything on Mercury.

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

you clearly havent seen the dr who christmas special where david tennant goes to mars have you? to summarise, water = evil creature wanting to enslave everyone

I always like hearing about stuff like this. Water is the basis of life, so the more water we find out there, the better.

Ah, so the invaders wont come from Mars, it'll be Mercury. :D

llew:

CardinalPiggles:
I reckon we should grab a ton of space water and give it to Africa or something, what's the worse that can happen?

you clearly havent seen the dr who christmas special where david tennant goes to mars have you? to summarise, water = evil creature wanting to enslave everyone

Second time I've been told that haha, I'll get to it sometime I swear! :)

In fact I might go on a bit of a Dr Who marathon over Christmas, that sounds great.

Encaen:
NASA Confirms Ice at Mercury's Pole

That's what she said.

Oh like you all weren't thinking it.

So while we're talking about this, could anyone explain to me what makes water so special? I know it's the basis for all life or something, but why?

DaWaffledude:
So while we're talking about this, could anyone explain to me what makes water so special? I know it's the basis for all life or something, but why?

Because all living things we know of require a vast array of biochemistry to take place. We need a solvent which is 1) common in the universe, 2) able to tolerate temperature variation, 3) causes spontaneous organization of solvents to allow some kind of barrier between self and non-self, 4) is stable enough to spectate in a lot of organic reactions, 5) can dissolve a very wide array of organic compounds.

When we look at the universe for those criteria (and I'm sure there are a lot more we could think of), water easily fits the bill and not much else does. Water allows fats and oils to make a membrane (think drop of olive oil in a pot of water) and dissolves many polar or ionic compounds (salt).

So the search for water at Mercury is probably not related to life itself, but if we were trying to find life, seeking water first is a good way to narrow the field of contenders.

DaWaffledude:
So while we're talking about this, could anyone explain to me what makes water so special? I know it's the basis for all life or something, but why?

The water in its self is not important. According to all the theory's of Mercury's creation the water should not be there, so they have to go back to the drawing broad.

FalloutJack:

Ah...I mistakenly assumed it had at least a small thin one. Hmmm, what about convection? In such close proximity, surely the planet is heated enough through its more solid matter thoroughly?

The max temperature at the poles is just above 100C, its like trying to melt an iceberg at the bottom of mineshaft with a kettle on the surface. The just isn't enough energy there.

albino boo:
Huh?

Okay, of all the answers I've received, yours is the one that confuses me. You have told me that the pole temperature of Mercury...is well above the temperature by which water freezes. (100C = 212F) This is a far cry from the permafrost-covered landscape of Antarctica. I'm afraid I still don't follow. I mean, if that's the lowest temperature to be found on Mercury's poles, WHY is there ice there? Nevermind water for a sec. The poles are not at freezing temperatures if what you're saying is true. Help me out with this one.

FalloutJack:
[quote="Karthesios" post="7.395064.16032259"]
Ah...I mistakenly assumed it had at least a small thin one. Hmmm, what about convection? In such close proximity, surely the planet is heated enough through its more solid matter thoroughly?

I know you got a few responses to this one, but those were some physics mumbo-jumbos. I offer a simple analogy!

Imagine that you are Mercury, the Sun is a big-ass bonfire and the rest of Space as a very effective freezer. Now go sit naked close to the bonfire and put the freezer behind your back. Your front side will soon start burning from the heat but your ass will feel like it's about to turn into and ice cube, so you turn. Now your ass is warm but your face is freezing. The heat just can't spread fast enough with nothing to hold it.
And that's how it works ;)

Credit goes to my high school geography teacher.

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