Could Mercury’s close orbit around the sun help the planet generate ice?
It sounds like a paradox, but new analysis of the planet’s surface chemistry suggests that heat-generated ice may indeed be the case.
Even though daytime temperatures on Mercury soar to 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius), ice can occur in craters sheltered from the sun. There, the surface is exposed to cold space at about minus 330 F (minus 200 C).
We’ve known about this ice for almost a decade thanks to observations from NASA’s now-defunct MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft. But the explanation for how some of the ice got there, chemically speaking, remains under investigation. A new study shows how water can collect on the surface even amid these extremely hot temperatures.
“This is not some strange, out-of-left-field idea. The basic chemical mechanism has been observed dozens of times in studies since the late 1960s,” Brant Jones, a researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “But that was on well-defined surfaces. Applying that chemistry to complicated surfaces like those on a planet is groundbreaking research.”