Scientists studying Mercury have found evidence of ice caps in the planet’s polar regions, suggesting they could support life.
„This exciting discovery of Mercurian glaciers expands our understanding of the environmental parameters that could sustain life” said Alexis Rodriguez, lead author of an article Published This week Journal of Planetary Science.
The authors hypothesize that glaciers—made of salt rather than water—several miles beneath Mercury’s polar regions may be „habitable areas” similar to Earth’s extreme environments. This research was funded in part by NASA’s Solar System Workings (SSW) program.
The news comes just weeks after scientists revealed that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, larger than Mercury, may harbor life.
If this is true, the discovery of Mercury’s glaciers opens up a new frontier in astronomy, the study of life in the universe. In addition to indicating that life could exist in extreme environments throughout the Solar System, it raises the possibility that Mercury-like planets could be discovered and habitable throughout the galaxy. Until now, Mercury was thought to be too close to the Sun to host life.
„Our discovery complements other recent research showing the presence of nitrogen ice on Pluto,” Rodriguez said, adding that ice could be present on both the solar system’s hottest and coldest bodies. Pluto’s glaciers contain frozen nitrogen.
The glaciers thought to exist on Mercury are not Earth-like. They are thought to originate from the flow of salt and come from beneath Mercury’s surface, exposed only by asteroid strikes. On Earth, certain salt compounds are known to create habitable dead zones.
For example, despite the salty, dry conditions, microbial life has been found in Chile’s high Atacama Desert. „This thinking leads us to think about the possibility that Mercury’s surface regions are more hospitable than its harsh surface,” Rodriguez said.
When astronomers discover a new planet orbiting its star, they often report whether it orbits in the star’s habitable zone, where liquid water can exist on its surface — and neither boil nor freeze. This not-so-cold, not-too-hot region is sometimes called the „Goldilocks Zone.” Mercury’s glaciers suggest a similar concept, but are thought to be within a planetary body. „In this case, the focus is on the exact depth below the planet’s surface rather than the exact distance from a star,” Rodriguez said.
The findings also cast doubt on current interpretations of Mercury’s geological history, with one theory suggesting that glaciers may have formed from water flowing out of volcanoes.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
„Oddany rozwiązywacz problemów. Przyjazny hipsterom praktykant bekonu. Miłośnik kawy. Nieuleczalny introwertyk. Student.