Recent data acquired by NASA’s Messenger space probe shows Mercury isn’t such a boring planet after all! Once believed to be an “inhospitable rock” the new images show the planet actually permitted various geological processes.
The findings were presented at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference which is actually taking place this week.
Some believe that this new information might contribute to understanding how Earth got its inhabitants, although the great majority considers there’s no need to jump to such conclusions yet.
The space probe gathered data that showed “noticeable tectonic activity” plus a variety of material present on the planet’s surface. The Messenger also managed to analyze some interesting areas known as “hollows”, with diameters varying from a few meters to more than a kilometer. Hollows are not the same as craters. They are believed to have resulted from the sublimation of volatile materials under the planet’s surface.
The interesting fact about these formations is that although Mercury has been a “victim” of asteroid and comet impacts, some of these hollows do not show traces of such close encounters. This information made David Blewett, a geologist at John Hopkins University, believe that hollows formed later on in the planet’s history.
The Messenger also detected “wrinkles” in various areas of the planet’s surface. These formations were named “scarps” or “graben”, depending on how they were created. Scars are a result of Mercury “shrinking”. As the planet started to cool down, it began to contract. This led to a decrease in the total surface area which resulted in these interesting regions. Scientists believe scarps and graben were also formed recently which means the planet is still changing.
The most important part of the Messenger mission was the analysis of the planet’s two poles. In 2012, the space probe identified evidence for water in the form of ice and now, scientists believe that there might be a coating of organic material on top of it.
Although there is a need for further analysis, the Messenger mission will soon end, as it is expected the space probe will run out of fuel somewhere in April which will eventually lead to it colliding with Mercury.
Despite this, astronomers consider it a successful mission, having obtained large amounts of information regarding the smallest planet in the Solar System.
Image Source: Wired