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MESSENGER Probe Finds Strong Evidence of Ice On Mercury

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the spun-rapidly-not-shaken dept.

NASA 80

The Bad Astronomer writes "Just in time for the holiday season, the NASA space probe MESSENGER appears to have all but confirmed the existence of ice at Mercury's north pole. Ice has long been suspected to be hiding in permanently shadowed areas in deep craters at the planet's pole, but new data show several converging lines of evidence (thermal and visible light mapping, radar, neutron emission) that as much as a trillion tons of ice may be buried just centimeters deep under the surface. Scientists also see evidence of organic (carbon-based) molecules as well. That's not life, but it's more of an indication that volatile compounds can exist on the solar system's innermost planet." Further, astroengine writes "New results from the MESSENGER spacecraft not only confirm that the planet closest to the sun has ice inside shaded craters near the north pole, but that a thin layer of very dark organic material seems to be covering a good part of the frozen water. Both likely arrived via comets or asteroids millions — or hundreds of millions — of years ago."

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first organic post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135199)

on mercury

Number One Priority . . . (4, Interesting)

StefanJ (88986) | about 2 years ago | (#42135215)

It would be expensive, because of the high delta-V required to match Mercury's orbit around the sun, but we should really get a lander down there.

One that can take core samples, and that has a sophisticated chemistry lab.

Or perhaps several landers / core samplers, with the ability to send samples to a central lab module.

The ice, and the carbon material covering it, would contain a history of comet impacts, captured dust samples, and other events.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#42135305)

What about sending a missile of some kind directly to the surface of mercury and then analyzing what it kicked up from a non-orbiting position? A bit more violent, and no "hands on" chemistry, but would be much cheaper.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (1)

patch5 (1990504) | about 2 years ago | (#42135401)

So, sort of, "shoot first, ask questions later?"

I can't imagine what could possibly go wrong with this as a scientific approach.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#42135437)

As a scientist, I can't imagine any other philosophy would work.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (4, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | about 2 years ago | (#42135535)

We've used the "hit it with a heavy object at high velocity" method to analyze a comet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Impact (spacecraft) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Number One Priority . . . (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#42135665)

Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (1)

Trogre (513942) | about 2 years ago | (#42153485)

also the moon.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (4, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#42135477)

That would be tricky. Mercury's gravity is a little more than 1/3rd Earth's, so you'd have to hit the surface pretty damned hard to get the debris high enough to make it worth doing. Worse, the kickup would scatter debris all over the surface, contaminating other craters and interesting locations with debris, some of it from the Earth missile. The last part alone would make it a rather terrible idea.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (2)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#42136465)

That would be tricky. Mercury's gravity is a little more than 1/3rd Earth's, so you'd have to hit the surface pretty damned hard to get the debris high enough to make it worth doing. Worse, the kickup would scatter debris all over the surface, contaminating other craters and interesting locations with debris, some of it from the Earth missile. The last part alone would make it a rather terrible idea.

I don't get it. If gravity is less then earths, you would think that stuff would fly higher and farther since it doesn't have as much gravity to hold it down.

DAMN YOU GRAVITY, YOU WIN THIS TIME! (2)

TiggertheMad (556308) | about 2 years ago | (#42136937)

I don't get it. If gravity is less then earths, you would think that stuff would fly higher and farther since it doesn't have as much gravity to hold it down.

The tactic of slamming something into a comet worked because the comet had basically no real gravity to keep debris from flying, where mercury has quite a bit more gravity. While it is only about 1/3 of that of earth, the implication isn't that we can pull this trick off on Earth. Debris from a comet will fly in a fairly straight path out of the point of impact, but debris on Mercury will fly in a more parabolic path.

Re:DAMN YOU GRAVITY, YOU WIN THIS TIME! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42137775)

It doesn't matter how far the debris flies unless you are trying to catch some. All that would matter is that it was heated up enough to do spectroscopic analysis on the emissions, and possibly how deep your impactor heats material up to those temperatures. If anything, having it spread out quickly would lessen the intensity of light from spreading out and cooling. Maybe you would gain something from seeing how far it spreads out, but that can taken into account whatever gravity is there.

Re:Number One Priority . . . (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#42144859)

It would be expensive, because of the high delta-V required to match Mercury's orbit

Thank you, I was wondering why we don't already have a lander there. However, it seems like a Mercury orbiter would be more expensive than say, a Mars orbiter. If we can put an orbiter there, why not a robot? I'd always assumed it was the heat, but this pretty much says that the north pole of Mercury isn't all that hot.

Life on another planet?!? (2)

Toe, The (545098) | about 2 years ago | (#42135229)

...oh, wait. I thought it said mice on Mercury. My bad.

Re:Life on another planet?!? (2)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135249)

Is this a setup for a gerbils on that U-planet joke?

Re:Life on another planet?!? (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#42139039)

Of course they didn't say mice. Mice come from mars. [imdb.com]

Human Colonies (4, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135235)

The article focuses on life, but perhaps ice also means Mercury could harbor human colonies. Most people think of Mercury as big oven, but there are probably Goldilocks areas near such "ice craters" where the temperature is just right, and near water sources to boot. It could end up being a better place for colonization than Mars because Mars' ice is mostly in cold areas only.

I just wonder about solar radiation.

Re:Human Colonies (2)

multiben (1916126) | about 2 years ago | (#42135265)

I think it's unlikely. Mercury's surface temperatures fluctuate wildly. 400+ Celsius during the day and as low as -200 celsius at night.

Re:Human Colonies (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135309)

But there may be spots at mountain or crater peaks/edges that get roughly even portions of sun both night and day. The sun would stay low to the horizon, lighting only half the peak at any given time. Perhaps the colony would have to live mostly under-ground to even out the temperatures.

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42140123)

Perhaps the colony would have to live mostly under-ground to even out the temperatures.

Bah! We can do that right here, right now!

Re:Human Colonies [under-ground] (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42147457)

Linux admins would never even realize they aren't on Earth, since they never come out-side anyhow ;-)

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 2 years ago | (#42135341)

Depends on where you are.

If ice is hanging around at the poles, then it stands to reason that the poles never see sunlight. If you could get up a colony in the permanent dark area, but plonk down some temperature-tolerant solar panels in the areas which get lit (and a couple of reactors to keep things warm during the 'night' periods)? It is (minus radiation concerns) theoretically doable.

Re:Human Colonies (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 2 years ago | (#42135353)

wee correction - certain areas at the poles never see sunlight.

It's easier in this context to make heat than to dump off the excess, afterall.

Re:Human Colonies (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#42135447)

If you could get up a colony in the permanent dark area, but plonk down some temperature-tolerant solar panels in the areas which get lit (and a couple of reactors to keep things warm during the 'night' periods)?

Or just make it a solar thermal power plant with a large heat accumulator. That would be very much "temperature tolerant". Indeed, it would be a thermophilic design, so as to speak. :-)

magnetic field (4, Interesting)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42135537)

It is (minus radiation concerns) theoretically doable.

A couple things in Mercury's favor. First, Mercury has an "earth-like" magnetic field (unlike venus and mercury). Second the "tilt" is pretty small so, near the poles you could probably reasonably straddle the day/night region.

The big down side, (that others have mentioned), is you got this big gravity pit near you and no atmosphere for braking, so getting stuff from Earth to Mercury is gonna be much more expensive than other places in the solar system.

Re:magnetic field (2, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#42135677)

How about we get our asses to Mars first? Then worry about the really difficult places.

Re:magnetic field (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#42138041)

Not so hard if we only need to get our asses there. :)

Re:magnetic field (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 2 years ago | (#42137079)

A couple things in Mercury's favor. First, Mercury has an "earth-like" magnetic field (unlike venus and mercury).

Usually the advantage implied by a magnetic field in these contexts is protection from space weather, and on that measure Venus's thick atmosphere more than outweighs its lack of a magnetic field. Not only are you protected from high energy particles by all that CO2, but even a large portion of visible light is blocked. Venus's surface daytime illumination is much less than Earth's on average despite being nearer to the Sun.

Re:magnetic field (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 2 years ago | (#42138019)

wat

Nobody particularly cares about radiation if they're sitting at the bottom of a 50-km-deep, 700 Kelvin, 90-bar autoclave.

[crappy] magnetic field (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42137985)

While Mercury does have a magnetic field, I normally don't see it referred to as Earth-like. Usually there are three categories of interaction between the solar wind and a planet: like Earth and Jupiter with a large, well developed magnetosphere, like the moon and Mars where there is virtually no magnetism and it is all interaction of the solar wind directly with surface or atmosphere, and then like Mercury. Mercury's field is about 1% as strong as Earth, which can mostly form a magnetosphere, but in the process of solar wind moving past, it can distort and disturb the magnetosphere such that sections of Mercury's surface are directly exposed to solar wind. So while it would be better than nothing, there would still be random exposure. And it doesn't help that its marginal nature makes it more difficult to model and predict compared to the other more extreme examples.

Re:magnetic field (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 2 years ago | (#42138045)

On the bright side (ahem), there's a lot of solar energy available for running plasma thrusters. Or roll out a big solar-sail parachute.

Re:Human Colonies (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#42135371)

And yet, if you dig straight down anywhere on planet earth 50 ft, it's a comfortable 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Much like your kitchen stove and living room, the stove can get very hot, but has very little effect on the other due to differences in thermal mass.
 
Somewhere near the bottom of the crater, there's a very good chance that there's cracks or caves soaked in organically rich liquid water somewhere under the surface. That kind of stable incubator is better suited for life than the six week old sandwich you left in the fridge since last year.

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135841)

And yet, if you dig straight down anywhere on planet earth 50 ft, it's a comfortable 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not anywhere. Some places you need to dig down through 4 km of ice first. 50 feet under the ice at South Pole is really darn cold (-40 C and -40 F). I hear even without any wind (it's a closed tunnel) it hurts to take your gloves off.

Re:Human Colonies (2)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#42135523)

I think it's unlikely. Mercury's surface temperatures fluctuate wildly. 400+ Celsius during the day and as low as -200 celsius at night.

Vin Diesel could live there just fine with a dagger, a short bit of rope, and a pair of dark goggles. AFTER he killed you with his coffee cup, that is...

Re:Human Colonies (3, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#42135579)

A walking colony could work though. You'd have to guarantee that your colony could continually move at the speed of the terminus, but if you put it close to the poles that wouldn't really be much of a problem once the route is established. Even at the equator you're only talking 5km/h, a brisk walking speed. There were some semi-serious proposals to lay rails down and let the heat expansion of the rail behind you push your colony forward so that you're in a constant dawn.

Or just build your colony underground, with the entrance positioned to always be in shade.

Re:Human Colonies (1)

deimtee (762122) | about 2 years ago | (#42139727)

If you have a travelling colony I really think you'd want to set it up so that you are in constant sunset. It is much easier to survive cold, and repair things in the dark than in an oven.

Re:Human Colonies (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#42135915)

They're talking about craters at the poles, where the sun never reaches the bottom. Always cold in there, and no atmosphere to convey heat from one part to another.

Re:Human Colonies (3, Funny)

formfeed (703859) | about 2 years ago | (#42138299)

Definitely no colonies. I just checked the county's website: Mercury is poisonous for humans.

Re:Human Colonies (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135267)

perhaps ice also means Mercury could harbor human colonies.
Perhaps but regardless there are a number of people I can think of that we should send anyway. You know on a trial and error kind of basis "well we believe there may be oxygen their Mr Bieber but would you mind going and finding out for us? Thanks!"

Re:Human Colonies (1)

sribe (304414) | about 2 years ago | (#42135303)

Here, let me fix that for you:

Perhaps but regardless there are a number of people I can think of that we should send anyway. You know on a trial and error kind of basis "well we believe there may be oxygen their Mr Boehner but would you mind going and finding out for us? Thanks!"

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135373)

Hi Scribe, you missed my typo "there" vs "their" but I appreciate the added humor. Just should still be the first to go to test the conditions. Hey I wonder would his eyes bulge up and then his head explode total recall style? Not sure if that's how it would go but it's a fun image to have of him attempting to be the first person to sing there and taking a gulp of air before "bang" and millions of twelve year old kids crying whilst anyone aged over about 17 laughing a lot and the new expression of doing a bieber coming into popular use. "Oh I wouldn't go into that toilet I've just done a bieber around the pan".

Re:Human Colonies (1)

Zibodiz (2160038) | about 2 years ago | (#42137089)

Hi Scribe, you missed my typo...

I'm sorry, but seeing a pedant make a mistake while chewing someone out for making a mistake is just too funny.

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135345)

I think there are worse people than Bieber we could send, jeeze, he's just a kid singer, what did he ever do to you?

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135361)

Between not being able to spell, and your fascination with Bieber, you must be a 14 year old male, right?

Re:Human Colonies (1)

Andy Prough (2730467) | about 2 years ago | (#42135563)

Yes - because no one over the age of 14 would ever mistakenly type "their" instead of "there" or dislike Justin Bieber

Re:Human Colonies (0)

AK Marc (707885) | about 2 years ago | (#42135867)

Yes, because everyone over 14 has learned to ignore things they don't like (or has joined the Republican party and attempted to outlaw them).

Re:Human Colonies (4, Insightful)

Indy1 (99447) | about 2 years ago | (#42135307)

Mercury is in a nasty gravity well. It takes a LOT of energy per pound to land anything there.

Not going to easy to land significant mass there.

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135531)

the problem is the sun's gravity right? how much shielding would you need for aerobraking in the corona? More than the fuel you would need to land direct?

Re:Human Colonies (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 2 years ago | (#42137201)

The corona is incredibly diffuse and a lot farther down the gravity well than Mercury is. Not really a usable aerobrake.

Re:Human Colonies (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135419)

There is a huge delta-v to go to Mercury and back. Mars is far easier. Even Europa in the gravity well of Jupiter would require less energy for transit back and forth.

Re:Human Colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135547)

Mars' ice is mostly in cold areas only.

All of Mars is cold by Earth standards, but there's plenty of ice outside the polar regions.

Ice of Spades (2)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135273)

NASA: "Maybe the probe carried the ice from Earth and contaminated Mercury."

Probe: "Hell no, I'm just the MESSENGER!"
     

Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (-1, Flamebait)

Thud457 (234763) | about 2 years ago | (#42135287)

What about the promised " earthshaking news" from the Mars Curiosity rover mission?!!!


NASA's been playing the boy that cried wolf a little too much the last couple years. Serves them right when their funding gets cut.

The Freddie Mercury Bunch? (2)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135349)

...promised earthshaking news from the Mars Curiosity rover mission?...NASA's been playing the boy that cried wolf

Martian Martian Martian!
   

Re:The Freddie Mercury Bunch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42138023)

Pop-culture reference background material:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yZHveWFvqM [youtube.com]

Re:Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (4, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#42135469)

You mean the promise that they would announce it at a conference in December (I believe the 8th or so)? You'll have to chill a few days as we are still in November.

Re:Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#42135711)

Well, hell, according to everything I see downtown, it's already Christmas...

Re:Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (0)

blind biker (1066130) | about 2 years ago | (#42135493)

What about the promised " earthshaking news" from the Mars Curiosity rover mission?!!!

Mod parent up - I admit I'm skeptical the news is truly earthshaking, but I'm still genuinely curious.

Re:Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about 2 years ago | (#42135555)

...however, I disagree with the funding cut to NASA - they should get larger funding, not smaller!

Re:Mercury? MERCURY?!!! (2)

mug funky (910186) | about 2 years ago | (#42136161)

from nasa.gov:

"NASA will provide a Curiosity update at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the American Geophysical Union. Rumors of major new findings at this early stage are incorrect.
The news conference will discuss Curiosity's use of instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. Audio and visuals from the briefing will be available via UStream."

looks like what they found turned out to be something else.

Grey goo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135359)

but that a thin layer of very dark organic material seems to be covering a good part of the frozen water.

I don't know why, but I had a sudden conspiracy theory level thought... that Mercury was actually populated by an advanced civilization, who created a grey goo [wikipedia.org] that ended up wiping all life except itself off the planet.

Now THIS seems like an idea that'd be hilarious to spread around the alien or other outer space conspiracy theory people. Any idea how we can spread this to them?

The Good, Bad, and Lost (0)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42135383)

The Bad Astronomer writes...

I'd be more interested in what the good astronomer says.

Would be fun if... (1)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#42135393)

It would be fun if extraterrestrial life were to be found on Mercury before or in addition to Mars. This would make the probability of extrasolar life skyrocket, no?

Will be renamed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135399)

...it's called SKYPE probe after 2013.

Too bad about BepiColombo's MSE (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42135451)

Too bad the BepiColombo's MSE (mercury surface element) probe was cancelled.

As I recall it was suppose to land near the north pole (since Mercury's axis tilt is small, near north pole would be an ideal spot, not too hot, not too cold).

It's an intelligence test! (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#42135541)

UNK, TURN SHIP UPSIDE DOWN.

Wow, One in a Billion Chance (1)

dcollins (135727) | about 2 years ago | (#42135699)

... of one of these articles saying "that's not life", instead of teasing dummies with visions of bug-eyed aliens dancing everywhere under creation.

so then... (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42135703)

So then logically at once specific point on the border between the dark, icy pole and the blazing surface, it's a beautiful 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweeeet.

Well... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42135837)

Now all we need is whiskey and its ready to go....

Very dark organic material? (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 years ago | (#42135881)

Please, just leave it there [wikia.com] .

I'll believe it when... (1)

Marble1972 (1518251) | about 2 years ago | (#42137099)

I'll believe it when they prise the ice out of Mercury's cold dead craters...

I think there was a song about this years ago. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42138349)

"Don't forget the sunscreen."

My Favorite Book in Fifth grade (1)

Fyzzler (1058716) | about 2 years ago | (#42138621)

http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Mercury-Winston-Science-Fiction/dp/B000OP9M4Q [amazon.com]

Lester Del Rey under a psuedonym and it had not only ice on the dark side of Mercury, but also Frozen Oxygen.

Re:My Favorite Book in Fifth grade (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#42147557)

When Del Rey wrote that book, it was thought that Mercury had one face that faced the sun, but they've since found that it rotates slowly.

That's not life... (1)

coofercat (719737) | about 2 years ago | (#42140703)

If there are girls there, I bet they're HOT ;-)

is the delta v that bad? (1)

dotmax (642602) | about 2 years ago | (#42141183)

I did a cursory goog, and got the impression that the delta-V to Mercury is 1/6th of the delta-V to Mars. Mercury is down the hill from us, not uphill. Mercury would seem to have the added benefit of having 10x the initial solar radiation available for running a sail. I'm a little disappointed to see this topic get so few posts. Mercury has a lot to offer from an explorational perspective. Plentiful energy, a B-field, easy to get to.... much more interesting than Mars in many ways.

Re:is the delta v that bad? (1)

dotmax (642602) | about 2 years ago | (#42141483)

I should not google things before i drink my coffee... I completely messed up my delta-v estimate. You are all right, mercury is a difficult target. It would still be worth it... maybe a solar sail or electrostatic decelerator for free delta-V?
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