What comes to your mind when you consider the planet Mercury? Well, the initial thought that we think is it is the closest planet to the Sun. So what do you expect the temperature would be there? Is there any probability of forming ice there? Well, don’t ponder on it too much as we now have new research bringing us a new revelation.
We know that temperatures on Mercury reach up to 430-degree Celcius and can also go as low as -180 degrees Celsius. Mercury also has some regions which don’t get any sunlight at all which are called Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) where the ice is found. But that is not weird, the following study is the irony here.
In a recent study, scientists propose that at least some of Mercury’s ice is indeed produced because of the extreme punishing heat the small planet endures in the rays of our Sun. It may sound strange for us, but according to a team from the Georgia Institute of Technology, it’s a well-known phenomenon.
“This is not some strange, out-of-left-field idea,” explains chemist Brant Jones, the co-investigator of Georgia Tech’s REVEAL lab. “The basic chemical mechanism has been observed dozens of times in studies since the late 1960s.”
In the team’s new paper, the researchers use modeling to probe into how this chemical mechanism could take place on Mercury, in a continuous water formation process that relies on minerals in the planet’s surface soil and a process called recombinative desorption(RD).
The soil minerals contain metal oxides, which are bombarded by charged proton particles carried on the solar wind, resulting in the formation of bound hydroxyls, molecular hydrogen, and water. In the airless atmosphere, and under intense heat, H20 molecules would be freed from the surface soil, diffusing and drifting across Mercury’s atmosphere-less environment.
Water formed from this mechanism will inevitably collect in the cold PSRs and will commit considerable amounts to the surface of Mercury over geological time periods,” the researchers explain in their paper. The total value we hypothesize that would turn into ice is 1013 kilograms (10,000,000,000,000 kilograms or 10,000,000,000 tonnes) over a term of about 3 million years.
This would make RD a significant but unrecognized source term for molecular water production on several Solar System bodies.
The discoveries are published in Astrophysical Journal Letters