Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, may have water. The finding is significant because the planet has a blistering surface temperature of more than 400 degrees. NASA launched Messenger, a satellite investigative spacecraft, in 2004 to map out the planet.
Data collected from MESSENGER has helped scientists discover “cold-traps” at the planet’s poles. The hypothesis was that the radar-bright features MESSENGER found near Mercury’s poles were “water ice trapped in cold, permanently shadowed locations.”
The findings released during the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference conclude that the images from NASA are consistent with the water-ice hypothesis. Scientists at the conference did add that the evidence provided from MESSENGER’s data and the Mercury Dual Imaging System is not conclusive evidence and that more research was necessary.
Mercury has been puzzling to scientists and very little is actually known about the planet. It has a strange orbital pattern and passes around the Sun once every 88 Earth-days. The quick passage around the Sun makes for a year on Mercury a quarter as long as a year on Earth. But Mercury rotates much slower than Earth and one day on Mercury is equal to 6 Earth months.
NASA’s Charlie Plain reported in The Land of Confusion before MESSENGER’s launch in 2004, “Fast and slow, magnetic from pole to pole, Mercury is a confusing planet that’s time for exploration has come.” Plain suggests that the more we know about Mercury could also change what we know about our own planet.
MESSENGER entered Mercury’s orbit on March 18, 2011 and has been completing an Earth-year long study of its target planet. On March 18, 2012, the spacecraft began its extended mission.