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Space & Astronomy

Ice and organic materials found on Mercury

By T.K. Randall
November 30, 2012 · Comment icon 13 comments



Image Credit: NASA
NASA's Messenger probe has revealed frozen organic materials on the closest planet to the sun.
Mercury might be the last place you'd expect to find ice but on the dark side of the planet where the sun never shines NASA has discovered not only ice but frozen organic materials similar to coal or tar. It is believed that these were dumped there by a comet at some point in the past and preserved in the ice. "It's not something we expected to see, but then of course you realize it kind of makes sense because we see this in other places," said scientist David Paige.

It is very unlikely that life would have ever developed on Mercury, however the discovery could help us to piece together the circumstances surrounding the emergence of life on Earth. "Finding a place in the inner solar system where some of these same ingredients that may have led to life on Earth are preserved for us is really exciting," said Paige.[!gad]Mercury might be the last place you'd expect to find ice but on the dark side of the planet where the sun never shines NASA has discovered not only ice but frozen organic materials similar to coal or tar. It is believed that these were dumped there by a comet at some point in the past and preserved in the ice. "It's not something we expected to see, but then of course you realize it kind of makes sense because we see this in other places," said scientist David Paige.

It is very unlikely that life would have ever developed on Mercury, however the discovery could help us to piece together the circumstances surrounding the emergence of life on Earth. "Finding a place in the inner solar system where some of these same ingredients that may have led to life on Earth are preserved for us is really exciting," said Paige.
Despite searing daytime temperatures, Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, has ice and frozen organic materials inside permanently shadowed craters in its north pole, NASA scientists said on Thursday.


Source: Chicago Tribune | Comments (13)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Coffey 10 years ago
Organics shouldn't be a surprise really. The problem is that people associate organics with life, that is not the case. Organic (in chemical terms) just means a molecule containing carbon. In Victorian times it was believed that all organic molecules were formed by living things, we now know that not to be the case, in fact the reverse is true; life arose from organic molecules. Makes me wonder about how they label "organic" food now... lol
Comment icon #5 Posted by 27vet 10 years ago
There may well be a few places on Mercury where the temperature can support life. Perhaps in a few decades they will send a surface probe there.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 10 years ago
Water is everywhere I guess except on Stars. This fact seems to surprise people too, but it shouldn't. Water is an extremely simple molecule. Given that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and oxygen the third most (second is helium which is extremely inert) then it follows that water should be one of the most common molecules in the universe. Makes me wonder about how they label "organic" food now... lol Different usage if the word "organic", nothing to do with chemistry at all. There may well be a few places on Mercury where the temperature can support life. Perhaps in a fe... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by Coffey 10 years ago
Different usage if the word "organic", nothing to do with chemistry at all. Was just a joke...
Comment icon #8 Posted by Taun 10 years ago
Waspie... I remember as a kid in science class (back in the early 60's) there was talk that Mercury had a 'twilight zone'... a narrow band that seperated the day side from the night side - since Mercury was tidally locked to the sun, this area was thought to have tolerable temperatures in spots... Of course sci-fi got ahold of that and there were some entertaining tales told of life in the twilight zone... Later of course I learned that this was not the case... sad really, a habitable twilight zone would have been pretty awesome...
Comment icon #9 Posted by DONTEATUS 10 years ago
Look to IO for Life ! THats where it all is !
Comment icon #10 Posted by DKO 10 years ago
Guess i'm a little naive. I took organic as meaning life, got really excited when I clicked on the link haha. Thanks for clarifying Waspy.
Comment icon #11 Posted by 747400 10 years ago
it's very interesting, isn't it. Water and oxygen potentially everywhere. Even if Mercury isn't exactly conducive, and even if Mars may not have enough water or atmosphere, then surely there's potential for all sorts of interesting discoveries in this, our very own solar system, before we even need to think about extrasolar planets. And to think that there are still people who smugly say "we know for a fact that there couldn't possibly be any life in our Solar system".
Comment icon #12 Posted by 27vet 10 years ago
Extraordinarily unlikely. Mercury has even less chance of supporting life than the Moon (and the Moon's chances are as close to zero as makes no odds). The only areas where water can survive are the craters near the pole. These are in eternal darkness and the temperature will be far to cold for any kind of chemical reactions need for even the most basic life. The rest of Mercury is either baked or frozen solid (depending on whether the Sun is above the horizon). The atmosphere (if you can call it that) is so tenuous that it can only be detected by very sensitive instruments and consists mostly... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by joc 10 years ago
Life is found all over the Planet Earth. From the deepest ocean bottom, to the highest peaks, from the desert to the frozen tundra, in pools of water deep within caves, where there is no light. So, you have an extremely uninhabitable temperature on the surface of Mercury. And at the poles, we find ice. Is it possible that a 'happy medium' exists where life might thrive there? Somewhere, at some point it would seem to me that there is a location, maybe only a few square inches in area, where ice is actually water, where a very limited source of life could develop. Do you think it inconceivable ... [More]


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