NASA has confirmed a surprising, counter-intuitive discovery. The burning hell known as Mercury — the closest planet to the sun — has water. Frozen water. Three new research papers, based on data obtained by the Messenger spacecraft, show undeniable evidence.
It's not just a little bit of water, but a huge amount: enough to cover Washington DC in ice. There is organic material too! NASA researchers believe that Mercury received this material in the same way as Earth did millions of years ago. And that material, they say, were the building blocks of life.
The results — obtained with three different instruments — were being presented in a press conference at NASA HQ in Washington DC. These findings confirm previous hypothesis and observations, but they are still surprising. Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has no atmosphere. That means that it gets extremely hot and extremely cold: the planet's surface temperature ranges from 50K (-223C) to 700K (427C).
But thanks to its angle in relation to our home star, there are areas that are always in shadow. That's where the ice sleeps, protected from the sun's radiation by this shadow and dark organic deposits that insulate the water from the sun.
NASA scientists think that this "complex mix of organic materials" is similar to the material that eventually gave rise to life on Earth. And, as in Earth's case, scientists speculate that this material was probably brought to Mercury by comets colliding with the planet's surface.
The yellow inside the craters indicates the presence of water ice:
NASA scientists obtained this data using three methods: neutron spectrometry, near-infrared reflectance and thermal models obtained by Messenger. The results are unequivocal; according to the project director "there's no other compound" it could be. Every piece of data coincides.