State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Frozen Water on Mercury, NASA Confirms

Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, may hold at least 100 billion tons of ice in permanently shaded craters near its north pole, NASA scientists announced Thursday. Radar images had led scientists to suspect for decades that Mercury had water, but NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which began orbiting the planet in March 2011, is the first to confirm it. The frozen water, along with a thin layer of dark material covering it, may have been delivered by comets or asteroids millions, to hundreds of millions, of years ago. “Certainly the darkness of the covering material was a surprise and the explanation that seems to fit all the data is that it’s organic material,” MESSENGER’s lead investigator, Sean Solomon, told Discovery News. Solomon is also director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

As Discovery goes on to say, “The finding may have implications in the search for life beyond Earth. The chemistry for life, as we know it, requires organics, liquid water and a source of heat. While there is no hard evidence for liquid water on Mercury, it could exist inside the planet beneath the ice.”

‘It really depends on the thickness of the (ice) deposits and how long some of them have been around. As you go deeper into a planet it warms. Temperature increases with depth,’ said Solomon.

Read more about NASA’s MESSENGER mission and results published Nov. 29 in Science:

Ice deposits found at Mercury’s dark poles, ABC News, Nov. 30, 2012

On Closest Planet to the Sun, NASA Finds Lots of Ice, New York Times, Nov. 29, 2012

Organics Discovered on Mercury, Discovery, Nov. 29, 2012

Frozen Water and Organic Material Discovered on Mercury, Wired, Nov. 29, 2012

MESSENGER Finds New Evidence for Water Ice at Mercury’s Poles, NASA press release, Nov. 29, 2012

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