Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mercury, A Planet Full of Surprises

A planet’s core isn’t supposed to take up three-quarters of a planet’s diameter, but Mercury’s does. Mercury’s core isn’t supposed to be molten, either, but it appears to be. A planet isn’t supposed to shrink, but Mercury does. Mercury shouldn’t have a magnetic field, but it does. Mercury isn’t even supposed to have an atmosphere, but it does. And a planet with surface temperatures soaring into the 800s (F) isn’t supposed to have ice, but some evidence suggests Mercury does.

These are a few of the mysteries confronting planetary scientists as NASA’s Messenger probe explores Mercury over the next few years,
reports Space.com. Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system (now that Pluto’s out of the picture), the densest (thanks to that massive core) and the closest to the sun.

In January, Messenger made its first flyby,
returning an astonishing set of images. But according to the messenger mission homepage, the probe is just getting started. Another flyby is scheduled for October 2008 and September 2009 before it settles into orbit during 2011.

According to the Space.com article, scientists already have theories about some of Mercury’s mysteries. For example, Mercury’s atmosphere, which is constantly drifting away (due to the small planet’s weak gravity), may be replenished by solar winds, seep from within the planet, or arrive on the backs of asteroids and comets.


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About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.