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NASA Space Science

MESSENGER Probe Finds Strong Evidence of Ice On Mercury 80

Posted by timothy
from the spun-rapidly-not-shaken dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "Just in time for the holiday season, the NASA space probe MESSENGER appears to have all but confirmed the existence of ice at Mercury's north pole. Ice has long been suspected to be hiding in permanently shadowed areas in deep craters at the planet's pole, but new data show several converging lines of evidence (thermal and visible light mapping, radar, neutron emission) that as much as a trillion tons of ice may be buried just centimeters deep under the surface. Scientists also see evidence of organic (carbon-based) molecules as well. That's not life, but it's more of an indication that volatile compounds can exist on the solar system's innermost planet." Further, astroengine writes "New results from the MESSENGER spacecraft not only confirm that the planet closest to the sun has ice inside shaded craters near the north pole, but that a thin layer of very dark organic material seems to be covering a good part of the frozen water. Both likely arrived via comets or asteroids millions — or hundreds of millions — of years ago."
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MESSENGER Probe Finds Strong Evidence of Ice On Mercury

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  • by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:01PM (#42135215) Homepage Journal

    It would be expensive, because of the high delta-V required to match Mercury's orbit around the sun, but we should really get a lander down there.

    One that can take core samples, and that has a sophisticated chemistry lab.

    Or perhaps several landers / core samplers, with the ability to send samples to a central lab module.

    The ice, and the carbon material covering it, would contain a history of comet impacts, captured dust samples, and other events.

  • Human Colonies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:04PM (#42135235) Homepage Journal

    The article focuses on life, but perhaps ice also means Mercury could harbor human colonies. Most people think of Mercury as big oven, but there are probably Goldilocks areas near such "ice craters" where the temperature is just right, and near water sources to boot. It could end up being a better place for colonization than Mars because Mars' ice is mostly in cold areas only.

    I just wonder about solar radiation.

  • magnetic field (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slew (2918) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:36PM (#42135537)

    It is (minus radiation concerns) theoretically doable.

    A couple things in Mercury's favor. First, Mercury has an "earth-like" magnetic field (unlike venus and mercury). Second the "tilt" is pretty small so, near the poles you could probably reasonably straddle the day/night region.

    The big down side, (that others have mentioned), is you got this big gravity pit near you and no atmosphere for braking, so getting stuff from Earth to Mercury is gonna be much more expensive than other places in the solar system.

  • Re:Human Colonies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:40PM (#42135579)

    A walking colony could work though. You'd have to guarantee that your colony could continually move at the speed of the terminus, but if you put it close to the poles that wouldn't really be much of a problem once the route is established. Even at the equator you're only talking 5km/h, a brisk walking speed. There were some semi-serious proposals to lay rails down and let the heat expansion of the rail behind you push your colony forward so that you're in a constant dawn.

    Or just build your colony underground, with the entrance positioned to always be in shade.

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