Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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MESSENGER measurements show evidence for water ice near Mercury’s North Pole

Posted: February 7, 2013

MESSENGER measurements show evidence for water ice near Mercury’s North Pole

Measurements from the MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) Neutron Spectrometer show decreases in the flux of epithermal and fast neutrons from Mercury’s north polar region that are consistent with the presence of water ice in permanently shadowed regions.

AOSS lead mission operations engineer Jim Raines, who is a MESSENGER science team member, says “Finding water ice on the hottest planet in the solar system is amazing, and really challenges us to remember that nature can really surprise us sometimes… I love the way that three different instruments, the Neutron Spectrometer, Mercury Dual Imaging System and the Mercury Laser Altimeter all worked together on this project.”

Raines adds that 20 years ago Mercury’s craters were detected from Earth as radar-bright regions and people speculated it could be water ice. Today, MESSENGER is orbiting the planet and confirms that early idea. 

The abstract states: “The neutron data indicate that Mercury’s radar-bright polar deposits contain, on average, a hydrogen-rich layer more than tens of centimeters thick beneath a surficial layer 10 to 30 cm thick that is less rich in hydrogen. Combined neutron and radar data are best matched if the buried layer consists of nearly pure water ice.”

To read the full abstract, click here.

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