Researchers noted that “it’s hard to believe that there can be ice on Mercury, a place where temperatures can reach 400°C”. However, their work showed that volcanic heat on the planet, on the contrary, can take part in the creation of ice. Extreme daytime heat is combined on the planet with temperatures of – 200°C in some craters, where there is practically no sunlight. It is there that ice forms.
However, low temperature is not the only factor that affects the appearance of ice. Solar winds are also involved in this, which fill the planet with charged particles, many of which are protons. At the same time, the minerals in the soil of Mercury contain hydroxyl groups that are generated by protons. Therefore, extreme heat helps to release hydroxyl groups, and then gives them energy to crash into each other, forming water and hydrogen molecules, which, in some cases, are stored on the planet.
Water molecules are stored only in those parts of the planet in which there are the right conditions for this. Scientists suggest that over 3 million years, the planet can produce up to 10 million tons of ice. The results of the study appeared in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The study was funded by the Virtual Institute for Solar System Research (SSERVI) program and NASA’s planetary atmosphere program.
“This gives us reason to say that a large amount of water on Mercury was delivered through exposure to asteroids”, the researchers noted. “But we only have to find out where the asteroids, in turn, got this water”.