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Polar Ice Deposits on Mercury

27 Oct 2014, 22:00 UTC
Polar Ice Deposits on Mercury
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NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has obtained the first ever optical images showing the presence of water-ice and other frozen volatiles within the permanently shadowed interiors of craters near Mercury’s north pole (Chabot et al., 2014). It may come as a surprise that water-ice is present on Mercury since Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and surface temperatures at its equatorial regions can soar above 400°C. However, near Mercury’s poles, there are a number of craters whose interiors are permanently shadowed from the Sun. Since Mercury does not have an atmosphere to transport heat around the planet, the permanently shadowed interiors of these craters serve as cold traps where water-ice and other volatiles can remain frozen there.Figure 1: Mercury. Figure 2: Locations of water-ice deposits in the shadowed interiors of craters on Mercury.Over two decades ago, Earth-based radar observations provided the first indications that water-ice might be present on Mercury’s poles. MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury on 18 March 2011 and has been observing the planet from orbit ever since. In late 2012, the presence of polar water-ice deposits on Mercury was confirmed by MESSENGER through a combination of observations involving neutron spectrometry (Lawrence et al., 2013), measurements of surface ...

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