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NASA Space Science

Mystery Rising Within Mercury 120

Posted by samzenpus
from the rising-mecury dept.
astroengine writes "Something besides volcanic eruptions and asteroid and comet impacts has sculpted the surface of Mercury — an unknown process, possibly still going on today, that causes the ground to swell from the inside out. The evidence, collected by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft currently orbiting the innermost planet, is scattered all over Mercury, including a dramatic finding that half of the floor of the biggest crater on the planet has been raised above the walls. The MESSENGER team's findings were announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston on Wednesday and will be published in this week's Science."
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Mystery Rising Within Mercury

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @11:34PM (#39437327)

    So it has come to this.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe the impact weakened the crust relative to its surroundings and the tidal force of the Sun caused the swelling. Inconsistencies in crust composition would explain why the shapes are different. Remember, Mercury is very close to the largest gravity well in the solar system.

    • Re:just guessing (Score:4, Informative)

      by The Snowman (116231) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:21AM (#39437591) Homepage
      • Re:just guessing (Score:5, Informative)

        by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @01:10AM (#39437807)

        In the 1880s Giovanni Schiaparelli mapped the planet more accurately, and suggested that Mercury's rotational period was 88 days, the same as its orbital period due to tidal locking.

        Seems plausible given I am a computer scientist and not an astrophysicist.

        Seems plausible that you are a computer geek: there's a bug in your citation (scientists wouldn't do it, they live or die on publishing; nobody would read articles based on old references).
        The same source [wikipedia.org] brings some "news" about the rotational period being 58.7 Earth days and the "tidal lock" being actually a spin-orbit resonance with a 3:2 ratio (1 "year" = 1.5 "days").

        • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @05:36AM (#39438685) Homepage

          No,no. I'll give him computer scientist. Considering how utterly craptastic software has been, There is very little expectation for computer scientists to actually do anything right.

          Computer Science is the only profession next to Meteorology where you can be wrong most of the time and keep your job.

          • by Dragon Bait (997809) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @06:49AM (#39438937)

            No,no. I'll give him computer scientist. Considering how utterly craptastic software has been, There is very little expectation for computer scientists to actually do anything right.

            Computer Science is the only profession next to Meteorology where you can be wrong most of the time and keep your job.

            I don't know. Most senators are re-elected for life.

            • by doston (2372830)
              Actually, Politicians do their jobs *perfectly*. Their job is to bilk the treasury, hand the money over to corporations (and take some from corporations for themselves) and keep the duped citizenry in just enough suspension of disbelief to stop an angry mob overrunning DC. It takes real skill, but they've been doing a great job so far!!
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            You're thinking of software engineering.

            Computer scientists are to software engineers like mathematicians are to ... regular engineers.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            Computer scientists aren't responsible for the bugs in your software; they don't write software. They research ways to design better circuits and algorithms; math, not programming. Your typical software "engineer" is usually someone with less than a Master's degree.

            Ask an MSCE to draw a schematic of a NAND gate. He's not likely to even know what one is.

            I read a paper last year (wish I could find it) by a fellow working on his CS PhD about slashdot's moderation system. Very insightful stuff in the article, a

          • Re:just guessing (Score:4, Insightful)

            by RenderSeven (938535) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:56AM (#39441435)
            COMPUTER SCIENCE: A study akin to numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the latter.
            - Stan Kelly-Bootle
          • What about stock brokers?
        • The same source [wikipedia.org] brings some "news" about the rotational period being 58.7 Earth days and the "tidal lock" being actually a spin-orbit resonance with a 3:2 ratio (1 "year" = 1.5 "days").

          When I was allowed access to the "big kids" books in the library as a first grader, the one book I grabbed was a book about the Solar System.

          Since the book was circa 1960, it told me Mercury was tidally locked with the sun and that's became a "fact" I've held on to ever since.

          While some /. people get a bit worked up over the "Pluto is not a planet" thing, Merury's rotational period is my that's not what I learned! issue.

          Being able to soak up information easily and remember it very well has its downsides. :)

          • I forgot to mention part of the absurdity of the situation is that I learned the information this in the late 80's, long after it was known to be untrue. I was misled by that dusty book.

            • by daath93 (1356187)
              In 8th grade science i turned in a report on Jupiter stating it had rings. My source was a brand new set of encyclopedias my mother had bought me that year. Since the ones in the school library didnt say anything about jupiter having rings, my teacher failed my report because she could't verify my facts. She did begrudgingly and with much annoyance regrade my report when i brought in the source material, but she made it seem like she was doing ME a favor. This has clouded my view admittedly of teachers in
              • by Grishnakh (216268)

                That's public school teachers for you. I had a bunch of public school teachers that were at least as bad.

        • The same source [wikipedia.org] brings some "news" about the rotational period being 58.7 Earth days and the "tidal lock" being actually a spin-orbit resonance with a 3:2 ratio (1 "year" = 1.5 "days").

          And I actually read that after I posted it. Oh well, I got it wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Astronomy fascinates me, but I suck at physics.

          I think the important point from all of this is that if the Sun is pulling on the surface of Mercury, and it rotates very slowly from the Sun's perspective, then it makes sense that t

        • by Lando (9348)

          So he makes a mistake and rather than pointing out what the error is politely, you have to come in calling him basically a script kiddie with no real training. You know, as a computer scientist, I frequently expect to spend hours researching and double checking all information that I post in a casual information blog. For that matter, I typically refer to wikipedia as an authoritative source of information.

          It seems to me that most scientists/engineers worry about the issue being discussed not how the pe

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            Seriously, if you disagree with someone point out the problems, don't start by insulting them.

            Times change, old man, I lived long enough to get used to it myself. Being called a geek is no longer an insult, nowadays it seems to denote people that are bright in some domain without caring too much... (including but not limited to the style).

            It seems to me that most scientists/engineers worry about the issue being discussed not how the person presented the information.

            T's funny mate... I mean, why did you mind my choice of presenting the correction (as well as pointing out that, if indeed a scientist, more care should be paid to what/how one cites, at the risk of loosing "face" among your peer scientists and scientific journals)

    • by flyneye (84093)

      No, some moron put the fisheye lens on the unit and the bulge appears anywhere you look...
      Didn't we launch that around April Fools day?

    • I'll say [xkcd.com]. It would take more energy to escape from Mercury than it would from the surface of Jupiter simply because of how far down Mercury sits inside the Sun's gravity well.
    • by MickLinux (579158)

      How about, maybe the surface is in a periodically slightly liquid glass state, and is, well, boiling?

      Also, Mercury nominally keeps the same side of the planet to the sun. How true is that? Does it change by so many degrees within 1000 years? Or is it absolutely constant [which I would doubt, without some process holding it there, like the core being magnetically fixed and solid... which I understand it isn't].

  • by ThorGod (456163) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @11:37PM (#39437343) Journal

    I predict the billion year "planet" phase of the great space moth is nearing completion. In another million years, the beautiful space moth will spread its wings and fly away.

  • And we already know why [troll.me].

  • by MichaelusWF (2225540) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @11:43PM (#39437367)
    This is a special place, filled with Juffo-Wup. But it is not the source
    • by Anonymous Coward

      No its the pile of money Disney allegedly' lost on John Carter

  • by snookums (48954) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @11:50PM (#39437413)

    I didn't see any mention in the linked article about what makes these features particularly odd. It says parts of the crust are tilted and raised by several kilometers in places. This is pretty commonplace geology caused by plate tectonics here on Earth (we call them mountain ranges). If Mercury has a liquid mantle, would we not expect to see similar folding and up-thrusting there? Is this different because of the size, shape, speed of movement?

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      What's unusual is that both the article and summary are short on facts and end with an advertisement for a magazine.

    • by stuckinarut (891702) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:33AM (#39437655)

      Perhaps try the BBC article: Mercury has been 'dynamic world' [bbc.co.uk]

      "Many scientists believed that Mercury was much like the Moon - that it cooled off very early in Solar System history, and has been a dead planet throughout most of its evolution," said Maria Zuber, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

      "Now, we're finding compelling evidence for unusual dynamics within the planet, indicating that Mercury was apparently active for a long time."

      Dr Zuber and her colleagues used laser measurements from Messenger to map out a large number of impact craters, and found that many had tilted over time. This suggests that geological processes within the planet have re-shaped Mercury's terrain after the craters were created.

      A process called polar wander can cause geological features to shift around on a planet's surface.

      In theory, the process of convection going on within the mantle could drive such changes. But Dr Zuber said this would be unusual in Mercury's case, because the mantle is so thin.

      Another potential explanation could be that features on the surface were distorted as the planet's interior cooled and contracted. This fits in with observations that some surface features on Mercury have been exposed to high levels of stress.

    • Since the notion that Mercury is a dead, inactive world like the Moon was common for a quite some time before we got much actual data from the planet, all gathered information will be referred to via that original reference.

      It's a bit like how the "canals" mistranslation became a dominant factor for how English speakers viewed Mars for several decades.

      The wording is just a reflection of the importance accorded to first impressions.

  • Could be minocs.
  • Obviously it's happening because someone is hiding an autistic kid who can break government codes. Come on, we went 9 posts without a Mercury Rising reference? Ugh.
  • I, for one, welcome our mercurian overlords.
  • Decepticons have been detected entering the galaxy!
  • Why so much core? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @01:45AM (#39437939) Homepage Journal

    Makes me wonder if Mercury was once the core of a much larger planet, and rhe mantle got knocked off in an impact.

    • by wcoenen (1274706)
      You could have linked to your source [wikipedia.org] instead of pretending that you came up with this theory yourself.
      • Its a pretty obvious theory, especially when you consider the prevailing origin theories for the moon. But the more I think about it the harder it seems. Its like skinning an egg. Most of the mass blown off the earth in the impact which formed the moon must have fallen right back. So who could an impact have neatly skinned the core of Mercury? It would have either taken a big chunk of the core (and where is it now?) or left much more crust on the planet.

  • ...soufflé?

  • That any sudden rise under the surface of a pockmark or crater can only be one thing -- festering acne.
    Next time hit that zit with some cleansers after popping it.

  • by Swampash (1131503) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @05:28AM (#39438637)

    As opposed to the other sort of swelling.

  • It's not just Mercury that is growing. Earth is growing as well:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJfBSc6e7QQ [youtube.com]

  • It's subsurface petroleum pushing up! Black gold! Texas tea! If confirmed, the US will have a manned expedition to Mercury to start fracking the hell out of that rock by 2015.

  • Chuck Norris. Mercury is discarded bubble gum from Chuck Norris' mouth.
  • ... December 21st, 2012 is approaching!
  • by gstrickler (920733) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:40AM (#39439781)

    "Our geochemistry colleagues kept sending us back to the showers saying 'Your gravity field can't be right because none of the internal structure models are fitting.' But we do now know that we got the gravity field right. It was very difficult."

    If the measurements don't fit your models, it doesn't mean the measurements are wrong. It could be measurement error, but it's more likely that your models are wrong. And they call themselves scientists.

    • "Our geochemistry colleagues kept sending us back to the showers saying 'Your gravity field can't be right because none of the internal structure models are fitting.' But we do now know that we got the gravity field right. It was very difficult."

      If the measurements don't fit your models, it doesn't mean the measurements are wrong. It could be measurement error, but it's more likely that your models are wrong. And they call themselves scientists.

      So, if you measure neutrinos travelling across Europe faster than the speed of light, then it's most likely that the model that says neutrinos cannot travel faster than the speed of light is wrong?

      I did plenty of labs in Physics undergrad days. Almost every time things didn't make sense it turned out to be measurement problems.

      • Is there some part of "it could be measurement error" that is unclear to you?

        As for the FTL neutrons, etc. it all depends upon the strength of the evidence for the model. The evidence for "c" being a limit is very strong, so measurements that conflict with it are likely to be measurement error. But the evidence for geomodeling isn't nearly as solid, so measurements that conflict with the model are more likely to imply a flaw in the model.

        • Is there some part of "it could be measurement error" that is unclear to you?

          I'll just ignore that unnecessary insult.

          As I said, I've done tons of undergrad labs and in most all cases of conflict the measuring was the problem. So your sentence "It could be measurement error, but it's more likely that your models are wrong" is completely at polar opposites with my experience doing science right in the lab.

          Measuring tiny gravity variations while in orbit of a tiny planet in the vicinity of a huge sun with a vicious solar wind, wildly fluctuating magnetic fields and insane temperatur

          • But your experience is with science where the models are well tested. You experience does not directly translate to this situation. Of course it's good to question the measurements, double check the equipment and calibration, etc. But it's pure arrogance to assume your unproven models are correct and that the measurements must be wrong.

  • And certainly don't do anything to piss it off. These things never end well.

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