November 29, 2012
Mercury has ice on it
Well, go figure.
The planet closest to the sun, where temperatures can get up to 430 degrees Celsius, apparently has ice. In fact, Mercury has a butload of ice, about 100 billion to 1 trillion tons of it. All of it resides in crater bottoms that never see the surface of the sun. This all comes from NASA's Messenger spacecraft.
Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for Messenger, said there was enough ice there to encase Washington, D.C., in a frozen block two and a half miles deep.
That is a counterintuitive discovery for a place that also ranks among the hottest in the solar system. At noon at the equator on Mercury, the temperature can hit 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
But near Mercury’s poles, deep within craters where the Sun never shines, temperatures dip to as cold as minus 370.
(To learn more about Mercury, check out this documentary)
Now why should this be fantastic news for all of us? Because the ice of Mercury proves that even in an inhospitable environment like being close to the sun, humans could probably find a way to set up a colony. While Mars is obviously the golden goose of the planets in the Solar System, an outpost on Mercury isn't so far fetched once space travel becomes more and more regular.
Just don't put it on a sunny surface. Perhaps underground or on a crater floor.
(If you want to see what the movies thinks of Mercury and being close to the Sun, watch the awesome flick Sunshine)
Its funny how in just a couple of decades, a solar system that seemed devoid of life and water (except for Earth) has become an outright playground for organic compounds. Now if we could just spend more on NASA...