Mercury ice has been found by NASA on the Mercury surface of it′s North Pole. During a press conference yesterday, the team of scientists, including David Lawrence, George Neumann, David Paige and Sean Solomon, working on Project Messenger made the announcement. Remarkable as it may seem that in the space environment of the closest planet to our Sun that water ice could still be found. Back in 1991, work done at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico provided clues that there may indeed be water ice on Mercury. The Messenger spacecraft is the first space probe to give Mercury a close look since the Mariner 10 mission in the mid-1970s. Thanks to a neutron spectrometer, the North Polar region was scanned and revealed the existence of water ice. So how does water ice, shown in the yellow spots on the first image below, exist on a planet so close to our Sun? The shadow knows….

mercury ice

Yes, as it turns out, the region of the North Pole of Mercury has a large ′shadow field′, as seen in the next image below in red. The yellow spots are sights where water ice has been detected. These correspond with similar results, as seen in the third image below, from the old Arecibo radio scan. The shadow regions allow for the temperatures to be low enough for water ice to exist while most of the planet has a surface temperature of roughly 840 degrees! Within the shadows, temperatures can reach a bone-chilling 350 degrees below zero!

mercury shadowsmercury arecibo

Messenger was launched back in 2004 and has only been orbiting Mercury since March of 2011. Equipped with several innovative instruments, such as a neutron spectrometer, which found the water ice, and a laser altimeter for mapping the planet′s topography, Messenger has been very busy. Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 days, ranging in distances from about 43 million to 28 million miles from our local star. Mercury does have a very thin atmosphere, primarily consisting of sodium gas, as well as a planetary magnetic field.

messenger spacecraft

The discovery by NASA′s Messenger spacecraft of Mercury ice in the planet′s North Polar region is an exciting one. The announcement came yesterday during a press conference led by some of the principle scientists involved such as David Lawrence, Sean Solomon, George Neumann and David Paige. The Messenger probe discovered the water ice using a neutron spectrometer. This confirms earlier data learned from radar scans of Mercury′s North Pole back in 1991 using the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Along with water ice on the Mercury surface, other chemicals have been found that could mean that organic compounds may exist as well.