Despite being one of the hottest planets in the Solar System, Mercury contains glacial ice in its polar regions. According to a new study, the planet's extreme heat could be the driving force behind the formation of Mercy's icy regions.
In 2011, NASA was able to confirm the existence of glacial ice on Mercury through the observations made by its Messenger mission. The discovery came as a surprise for many scientists especially since the temperature on the planet can reach around 400 degrees Celsius.
Using Heat To Form Water Molecules
Recently, a new study revealed that the planet's hot climate could be responsible for the formation of Mercury's polar ice caps. The authors of the study, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, came to this conclusion after analyzing new models of the planet. According to the scientists, Mercury often gets pelted by solar winds from the Sun. These highly-charged particles are protons that assist in the chemical process related to the formation of water on Mercury.
The scientists explained that the protons generate compounds known as hydroxyl groups in the surface soil of the planet. Due to Mercury's extreme heat, the hydroxyl groups get released from the soil and energizes them. This causes the compounds to smash into each other, producing hydrogen and water molecules that hover in the air and travel across the planet.
Creating Ice Caps On Mercury
Some of the water molecules break down and evaporate as they rise above the planet's surface. However, some of the molecules manage to reach regions near Mercury's poles that are permanently covered by the shadows of craters.
As a result, the water molecules get shielded from the Sun. Since the planet does not have an atmosphere, it does not have air-conducting heat that can affect the water molecules. Over time, these molecules freeze and become part of the growing glacial ice on Mercury's poles.
Mercury's Rare Phenomenon
According to the study's co-author Brant Jones of Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the concept of heat generating water and ice is not a rare phenomenon. However, finding the same chemical process occurring in an unstable environment such as Mercury is astonishing.
"This is not some strange, out of left field idea. The basic chemical mechanism has been observed dozens of times in studies since the late 1960s," he said in a statement. "But that was on well-defined surfaces. Applying that chemistry to complicated surfaces like those on a planet is groundbreaking research."