Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, has permanent layers of solidified water due to a chemical reaction on its surface.
With temperatures exceeding 400 ° C, Mercury is, theoretically speaking, a powerful natural furnace in space. For this reason, it is surprising that an element such as ice may exist in an ecosystem as the small planet, as demonstrated by probe Messenger of NASA in 2011.
However, a recent study would show that this is possible for a particular reason. According to research by a group of scientists from the Institute of Technology of Georgia, the United States, the reason for the existence of ice sheets at the poles of the body celestial is based on a scientific fact: the extreme heat of the mercurial day merged with Temperatures of -200 ° C present in the shadows of the planet’s craters, which acted as ice-making laboratories.
The team’s study was published on March 16, 2020, in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and the researchers involved were motivated by the images that the aforementioned Messenger mission collected in the Mercury flyby nine years ago.
“This is not a strange idea. The basic chemical mechanism has been observed in studies dozens of times since the late 1960s. But it occurred on well-defined surfaces. Applying this chemistry to complicated surfaces like those of a planet is innovative research,” mentioned Brant Jones, a researcher at the Institute’s Faculty of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
The report shows that mercurial soil has chemical components called hydroxyl groups, made up of oxygen and hydrogen (OH) atoms. These materials are generally formed by protons released by solar winds to the planet’s surface.
The research proposes that extreme heat releases these components and generates energy to produce water molecules by colliding with each other. After this, the molecules begin to float in the environment and move around the planet, eventually landing close to the shadow generated by the craters of the Mercury poles.
What’s interesting about the subject is that most of the molecules fade from sunlight or rise so high in their levitation that they leave the planet. It is thanks to the absence of an atmosphere in Mercury that some of these elements can end up in the craters, thus becoming a part of the 1,000 kilograms of ice formed over 3 million years at the poles of the star.
“Water molecules can enter shadows, but can never leave them. The process could easily account for up to 10% of Mercury’s total ice,” said Brant Jones and Thomas Orlando, another professor at the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, as well as co-author of the study.
It should be noted that, although the extreme heat of the planet produces water, most of this element existing in Mercury comes from the impacts of asteroids on its surface, a case similar to that of Earth. “I would acknowledge that much of the water in Mercury was released on collision. But there’s also the question of where those asteroids got it. Processes like these could have helped achieve this,” Jones said.
Orlando even mentions that it is not necessary for the star to have water because the collision with the planet also produces it: “Mercury and the Moon are always being hit by small meteorites, so this happens all the time. “The research also suggests that, despite the similarity of cases between the planet and the terrestrial satellite, there is no ice on the Moon because it is not hot as on Mercury.