US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Mercury is a planet with such a hot surface that lead melts there. However, once upon a time there could be living conditions on it. True, the chances of this are slim.
Last week, a new theory was published in the Scientific Reports magazine based on one feature of this planet closest to the Sun, namely its chaotic terrain. Mercury’s landscape is uneven, erratic, with many cracks, and it consists of cracked rock, peaks of very different heights and collapsed craters.
“Imagine a child throwing bricks in one pile and think about what kind of mess they will create,” said Deborah Domingue, who works at the Tucson Institute of Planetology and co-authored the study. “Part of the bricks at the top, part at the bottom, some at an angle, some are split – this is chaotic terrain.”
For almost half a century, scientists believed that the chaos on Mercury was caused by earthquakes that occurred on this planet after a massive asteroid hit it.
However, a new study led by colleague Dr. Dominge Alexis Rodriguez (Alexis Rodriguez), refutes these views. It indicates that such a terrain could not be formed as a result of the collision of Mercury with an asteroid, because its formation occurred two billion years after the formation of the crater from the collision.
In addition, Dr. Rodriguez and his colleagues found that areas with chaotic terrain seemed to have fallen. It seems that the layer of planetary crust beneath the surface of Mercury simply disappeared.
The simplest explanation is that subsurface substances from those that can easily pass from solid to liquid or gaseous state are heated by magma intrusion from below. These substances turned into a gaseous state, and the surface above them collapsed down, creating chaotic piles.
“Imagine that your house is on stilts and you knock them out one by one,” said Dr. Domingue. “Your house will tilt, right?” And then it will collapse. So it happened there.”
Planetologist Paul Hayne, who did not participate in the study, from the University of Colorado in Boulder agrees that the generally accepted idea of chaos on Mercury, which no one has doubted for a long time, may be erroneous. He also notes that the new theory is consistent with what scientists observe on Mars, where a similar terrain could be formed as a result of the release of volatile substances from under the surface.
The prospects are exciting, given that such volatile substances, especially water, are necessary for the origin of life. Scientists cannot say exactly which volatiles were present, but there is reason to hope that one of them was water, said Dr. Domingue.
Such conclusions contradict the idea that Mercury is unsuitable for habitation. Being so close to the Sun, the surface of this planet in the daytime heats up to 430 degrees Celsius. And since the atmosphere is not there, and it cannot keep heat, at night the temperature on its surface drops sharply to minus 180 degrees.
But immediately below the surface, the temperature is much lower, and it is even pleasant, at least for some life forms, said Jeffrey Kargel of the Institute of Planetology, who also participated in the study.
“Perhaps while the water was there, the temperature favored the origin and preservation of life,” he said. But at first, even Kargel was not sure.
“It seemed to me that Alexis was missing something,” he said, referring to Dr. Rodriguez. “But the more I studied geological data, the more I thought about the chemical composition and physical conditions there, the more I became convinced that this idea was nonsense, but not complete.”
But Dr. Hein believes that in this case it is hardly possible to talk about water. The only possibility is that this water was associated with the rock.
“There could be temporary pockets of water activity, but I don’t think it was massive reservoirs of water and subsurface lakes, or something similar,” he said.
However, the hypothesis of the existence of water on a planet such as Mercury provides the key to finding life in the entire galaxy. Astronomers have discovered thousands of planets orbiting other stars, and some of them are very similar to Mercury.
“If this happened here, it could have happened elsewhere,” said Dr. Rodriguez.
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