There has been some exciting news from the scientific community as of late. NASA is reporting the recent confirmation of a large amount of ice, very close to the surface of Mercury. Not too shabby, considering the space program was threatened with losing half its funding just a year ago.
Water, Water, Everywhere
It seems almost ironic that Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, would be the site of this enormous ice discovery. But apparently the ice is located predominantly on the planet’s poles, inside of permanently shadowed regions, which stay cold year-round, despite the planet’s proximity to the sun.
Mercury is not only the closest planet to the sun, it is also the smallest planet in the Solar System. For reference, Mercury is 28 to 43 million miles away from the sun, while Earth is approximately 92 million miles.
This discovery is merely the confirmation of a theory that’s been around for awhile. The idea that there might be water, or ice, on the surface of Mercury dates back to 1991.
NASA has had a probe orbiting Mercury for the past several months. The probe, named “Messenger (MErcury Surface, Space EnviroNment, Geochemistry and Ranging)—confirmed the long-suspected discovery in Science magazine this week. The estimated amount of ice is anywhere from 10 billion to 1 trillion tons.
Since 2011, Messenger has shot more than ten million laser imaging pulses onto the surface of the planet. These pulses have enabled NASA to thermally map and radar test the planet, which led to this startling discovery.
What Does It Mean?
Well, it’s an indication that there’s a lot more water out there than we had originally thought. If a blazing, super hot planet like Mercury has ice, it’s a lot more likely that there’s more out there, out in the vast, infinite reaches of space.
Does it point to life on other planets? Sort of, but not really. Water is indeed one of the raw materials necessary for life. So if there are other forms of life out there, at least they probably won’t be thirsty.
So, before we start packing for the future colony on Mercury, let’s take into account that the temperature on the planet’s surface ranges from -292 to 797 degrees Fahrenheit. So, pack a coat. A flame retardant one.
Maybe we can do to Mercury what England did with Australia—take everyone with a criminal record and ship them off to the new planet.*
*That is a joke. I do not advocate shipping criminals to another planet.
Author Byline: Brady Kinsgly is a freelance writer based in San Diego, California. Current projects include various magazines and Internet-based companies such as Instant Checkmate.