Nasa has taken the first ever pictures of water ice on Mercury – the permanently-roasting planet closest to the Sun in our Solar System.
It might sound counter-intuitive to find ice on a planet where surface temperatures hit highs of 430 degrees Celsius every day (a Mercury day is equivalent to 58 Earth days) but impact craters on the poles permanently shadowed from the Sun have been found to provide some much needed shade.
Scientists have thought this might be the case since the mid-1990s, when radio telescopes scanning the planet found areas that strongly reflected radar signals (a good sign that ice is present) with this most recent study is the first to provide optical proof.
The scientist examined a number of impact craters situated around Mercury’s north pole (including the largest, Prokofiev, an indentation just under 70 miles wide) and found that the deposits were made surprisingly recently, with the boundaries of the ice defined by sharped edges not yet smoothed out by time.
“The sharp boundaries indicate that the volatile deposits at Mercury’s poles are geologically young,” wrote the study’s authors in the journal Geology, “and either are restored at the surface through an ongoing process or were delivered to the planet recently.”
NASA: Space in pictures
NASA: Space in pictures
A false colour image of Cassiopeia A comprised with data from the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes and the Chandra X-Ray observatory
The Barred Spiral Galaxy (NGC 6217) in the Ursa Minor constellation is pictured in Space
A team of astrophysicists has detected so-called gravitational waves – predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago – which are the first tremors of the Big Bang when time and space began about 13.7 billion years ago
Rex Features/Mood Board
The barred spiral galaxy M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel. The Hubble photograph captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and 'ghosts' of dead stars called supernova remnants
Acosmic creepy-crawly known as the Tarantula Nebula in infrared light
A spiral galaxy ESO 373-8 - together with at least seven of its galactic neighbours, this galaxy is a member of the NGC 2997 group
A massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744, according to NASA these are some of the faintest and youngest galaxies ever detected in space
A giant cloud of solar particles, a coronal mass ejection, explodes off the sun, lower right, captured by the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
Current conditions of the quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun
First color image of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968
Fog forming over the the US Great Lakes area and streaming southeast with the wind. A swirling mass of Arctic air moved south into the continental United States
Astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, is shown in the second of two spacewalks designed to allow the crew to change out a faulty water pump on the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station
If the water was ‘delivered recently’ then it could suggest new mechanisms in the distribution of water-ice in the Solar System – research that might have implications for our own Moon, which is also believed to contain water-ice in areas of permanent shadow.
"If you can understand why one body looks one way and another looks different, you gain insight into the process that's behind it, which in turn is tied to the age and distribution of water ice in the solar system," study lead author Nancy Chabot said. "This will be a very interesting line of inquiry going forward."Reuse content