November 30, 2012

Scientists confirm ice at Mercury's north pole

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Scientists have confirmed a vast amount of ice at the north pole on Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

click image to enlarge

Photo shows a 68-mile-diameter crater in the north polar region of Mercury which has been shown to harbor ice.

The Associated Press

The findings are from NASA's Mercury-orbiting probe, Messenger, and the subject of three scientific papers released Thursday by the journal Science.

The frozen water is located in regions of Mercury's north pole that always are in shadows, essentially impact craters. It's believed the south pole harbors ice as well, although there are no hard data to support it. Messenger orbits much closer to the north pole than the south.

"If you add it all up, you have on the order of 100 billion to 1 trillion metric tons of ice," said David Lawrence of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. "The uncertainty on that number is just how deep it goes."

The ice is thought to be at least 1 1/2 feet deep -- and possibly as much as 65 feet deep.

There's enough polar ice at Mercury, in fact, to bury an area the size of Washington, D.C., by two to 2 1/2 miles deep, said Lawrence, the lead author of one of the papers.

For two decades, radar measurements taken from Earth have suggested the presence of ice at Mercury's poles.

Now scientists know for sure, thanks to Messenger, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

The water almost certainly came from impacting comets, or possibly asteroids. Ice is found at the surface, as well as buried under a dark material.

Messenger was launched in 2004 and went into orbit 11/2 years ago around Mercury, where temperatures reach 800 degrees. NASA hopes to continue observations well into next year.

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)