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Beyond Earthly Skies

Polar Ice Deposits on Mercury

5 Sep 2013, 22:00 UTC
Polar Ice Deposits on Mercury
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Despite the blazing heat from the nearby Sun, water ice exists at Mercury’s polar regions. Ice from comets that crashed into the planet has been cached in deep craters near the poles, where sunlight never reaches. Just as on the Moon, ice is an invaluable resource for humans and their machines.- Ben Bova, MercuryFigure 1: Artist’s rendering of Mercury.Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and the time it takes to complete one orbit around the Sun is 88 Earth days. There is no atmosphere on Mercury; as a result, Mercury’s surface experiences great temperature variations. During the day, temperatures at some equatorial regions on Mercury can reach over 700 K (427 °C), hot enough to melt zinc. Without an atmosphere to retain the day’s heat, night time temperatures can sink below 100 K (-173 °C).On 18 March 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury and began a mission to study the closest planet to the Sun. Around the planet’s north pole, in areas permanently shielded from the Sun’s rays, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has found vast deposits of water ice and possible organic materials. Previous Earth-based radar observations have already hinted at the existence of water ice deposits ...

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