Mercury Home to Ice, Messenger Spacecraft Findings Suggest


Mercury is as cold as ice.

Indeed, Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, possesses a lot of ice, scientists working with NASA’s Messenger spacecraft reported on Thursday.

Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for Messenger, said there was enough ice there to encase Washington, D.C., in a frozen block two and a half miles deep.

That is a counterintuitive discovery for a place that also ranks among the hottest in the solar system. At noon at the equator on Mercury, the temperature can hit 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

But near Mercury’s poles, deep within craters where the Sun never shines, temperatures dip to as cold as minus 370.

“In these planetary bodies, there are hidden places, as it were, that can have interesting things going on,” said David J. Lawrence, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory working on the Messenger mission.

The findings appear in a set of three papers published Thursday on the Web site of the journal Science. The ice could be an intriguing science target for a future robotic lander or even a resource for astronauts in the far future.

Planetary scientists had strong hints of the ice a couple of decades ago when telescopes bounced radio waves off Mercury and the reflections were surprisingly bright. But some researchers suggested the craters could be lined with silicate compounds or sulfur, which might also be highly reflective, and not water ice.

Written By: Kenneth Chang
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  1. Very interesting stuff.  Reminds me of a book that I had as a kid, it was published in the 50s called “Timothy’s Space Book” . Really dated now and very amusing to look at.  Heres a great pic of Mercury, from the book!:

    Cracker eh?


  2. Lovely! TSB fired your imagination, though? It’s forecasts weren’t too far off for its time even if the renderings are a bit quaint- I like it.

    MEcury Surface Space ENvironment GEochemistry and Ranging

    Earthlings, Martians, Mercurians…

  4. Yes, I loved the book as a kid. Growing up in the 60s was fantastic – space and space exploration was never out of the news. And all the kids TV programs were space themed and futuristic. So its great to see the current developments in the research into the solar system.  Timothy’s Space Book definitely played its part in getting me interested in astronomy!

  5. Cool, A colony on Mercury! How big would the sun appear in the sky? Is the drawing in SG’s link accurate?

  6. faithless1, Hey, somebody actually asked your question on Yahoo! and got an incredibly thorough answer:

    Cant vouch for the veracity of it, but, I wish all Yahoo questions were answered like that!


  7. faithless1
    Cool, A colony on Mercury! How big would the sun appear in the sky? Is the drawing in SG’s link accurate?

    A colony would be tricky!  The very low temperatures are only consistently present in the permanent shadows of polar craters.

    The rest of the planet t is very hostile!

    How hot is Mercury?
    Well, that depends on where you are on the planet’s surface. There is a tenuous, at best, atmosphere on Mercury. That means
    that the planet does not retain the heat it receives from the Sun as it rotates. The side facing the Sun is amazingly hot, around 700 Kelvin (430 °C), yet that same place on the planet can plunge to 110 Kelvin
    (-163 °C) when it is on the dark side. Due to the planets axial tilt, some parts of the poles never receive sunlight and can stay at 90 Kelvin (-183 °C). Given those figures, the average(median) temperature of the Mercurian surface is 452 Kelvin (179 °C).

    Mercury also has its very thin atmosphere swept off by the Solar wind giving it a comet-like tail.

  8. Nice pic. “Men will explore one day”??? You wouldn’t want to phrase it that way now!


    This article explains how the ice is derived from the great flood:


    I demand that this is allocated equal weight alongside any other theories as to the origin of the ice.

    .. and a some basic education in arithmetic, planetary accretion, geological structures, and escape velocities for Brown!


    This article explains how the ice is derived from the great flood:


    Another interpretation of the spectroscopy could mean it is sulphur, not water!

    (Where was it biblical sulphur came from again?)

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