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Space & Astronomy

Could Mercury have once supported life ?

By T.K. Randall
March 25, 2020 · Comment icon 0 comments

Mercury may seem inhospitable, but was it always that way ? Image Credit: NASA/JHU/APL
According to a new study, the nearest planet to the Sun may have once been a lot more habitable.
With temperatures ranging from an unimaginably freezing -173C during the night to a blisteringly hot 427C during the day across its equatorial regions, Mercury, which completes one orbit of the Sun every 87.97 days, is certainly not the first place you would typically think of when it comes to seeking out habitable environments within our own solar system.

Now however, a new study has revealed that Mercury's "chaotic" cracked and cratered landscape, which had long been thought to be the result of an ancient asteroid impact, may have been formed by volatiles - compounds and elements capable of jumping from one state to another (such as water) that are essential to life here on Earth.

Using data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, scientists were able to date the terrain on Mercury's surface as well as the Caloris basin - the impact crater left behind by the asteroid.

"A key to the discovery was the finding that the development of the chaotic terrains persisted until approximately 1.8 billion years ago, 2 billion years after the Caloris basin formed," said study co-author Daniel Berman from the Planetary Science Institute.
The researchers also noted that parts of the surface had seemingly dropped, as though something underneath had given way. This led them to the conclusion that volatiles beneath the planet's surface may have been heated by lava and turned to gas, causing the surface to crack and collapse.

They also believe that water could have once formed just beneath the surface.

If life ever did emerge on Mercury in the past however, it will be long gone by now.

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