"Mercury in True Color" by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Arizona State University/Carnegie Institution of Washington / Public Domain

Life on the Planet Mercury? ‘It’s Not Completely Nuts’

Mar 24, 2020

By Shannon Hall

Mercury — a planet with a surface hot enough to melt lead — might once have contained ingredients needed for life. Though that’s a pretty big might.

The new theory, published last week in the journal Scientific Reports, is based on a particularly muddled feature on the planet orbiting closest to the sun, known as “chaotic terrain.” Here, the cracked, uneven and jumbled landscape consists of fractured rock, mismatched peaks and collapsed craters.

“Think of a kid throwing up a bunch of building blocks and how they land,” said Deborah Domingue, a co-author of the study from the Planetary Science Institute, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz. “Some are up, some are down, some are tilted — that’s chaotic terrain.”

For nearly 50 years, scientists have thought the chaos on Mercury was caused by earthquakes that raced throughout the planet when a massive asteroid struck the planet’s far side.

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