Mercury turned out to be an “ice factory”

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Oddly enough, but the planet closest to the Sun is quite rich in ordinary water ice. It is believed that asteroids delivered most of the water to Mercury, as well as to Earth.

Some of it has been preserved in the eternal shadow of craters near the poles of the planet. The temperature here stably remains deep below zero, although part of the surface illuminated by the Sun can warm above 400 ° C.

At the same time, such a contrast makes Mercury an independent “chemical reactor” capable of producing its own water, which is also partially preserved in the circumpolar regions of the planet. This was reported in an article in preparation for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters . Professor Thomas Orlando’s team is also featured in a press release distributed by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The mechanism of ice formation is quite simple and described in general terms back in the 1960s. However, now it was possible to apply it to the real conditions of a real planet with its complex surface, chemical and energy balance. According to this scheme, it all starts with the solar wind – a stream of particles that intensively bombards the surface of the planet. It consists primarily of protons.

Interacting with minerals on the surface of Mercury, protons are able to bind to them, forming hydroxyl (OH) groups. In turn, hydroxyls can be released from molecules due to high temperatures on the day side of the planet. Free OH groups interact with each other to form hydrogen and water molecules. Most of them disappear into space or again decay under the influence of the solar wind.

However, a certain amount manages to move into the polar craters and take refuge in their cold shade, where the Sun no longer looks. Without an atmosphere, heat transfer around the planet is difficult, and at the poles of Mercury glaciers persist for whole eras. According to scientists, over a period of three million years, such a mechanism is able to accumulate about 11 billion tons of water ice, which is about 10 percent of its total amount on the planet.


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