NASA announced yesterday that their MESSENGER probe has detected the presence of frozen water on Mercury, and possible “organic” material, both likely deposited there by asteroids.
It may seem strange to find ice on Sol’s nearest planet, which reaches 800°F on its sunny side. Mercury has an extremely low rotation velocity, however: each of the planet’s days are two mercurian years long. This combined with the planet’s small axial tilt creates areas of near-permanent shade – as cold as 360°F below in the craters at the poles. MESSENGER’s scans of these areas show billions of tons of ice with the characteristics of frozen water under a few inches of carbon “soot.” Both of these substances are theorized to have been deposited millions of year ago by meteoric impacts fro asteroids of ice and organic carbon.
We here at the Harbinger’s Delight reserve our enthusiasm overthis important discovery. Though these findings confirm decades of theory, the putative water ice may yet prove to be a slurry of frozen gasses containing hydrogen. The mysterious dark substance coating the ice is another mystery, and could be a thermal layer of organic carbon or simple dust. This find is significant, however, to the process of understanding the “natural terraforming” which may have taken place on Earth when water and the other building blocks of life were deposited here by comets. This data on presence of water and the migration of material between the planets is key to our history of the early solar system and the formation of earth. Moreover, it is a step toward understanding the large-scale changes that will be required for offworld settlements on our planetary neighbors. Space colonists take note: there is now one more wet(ish) world to choose from.