Mercury has ice and materials known as "organics," according to surprising new findings announced Thursday afternoon by NASA, the United States space agency.
Mercury, the planet closest to the extreme heat of our solar system's sun, is known mostly as a super-hot entity, where temperatures can surpass 800 degrees Fahrenheit.But on Thursday, NASA announced that deep inside craters at Mercury's poles sheltered from the Sun where temperatures go as low as negative 370 degrees there seem to be large deposits of ice. But the probe did not find any evidence of liquid water, according to Cosmos magazine.
Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for NASA's Messenger spacecraft, which began orbiting Mercury in March 2011, said Thursday that the findings suggest that there is enough ice in a frozen deposit 2 1/2 miles down in one such crater to encase all of Washington, D.C., according to the New York Times.
“In these planetary bodies, there are hidden places, as it were, that can have interesting things going on,” David J. Lawrence, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who works with NASA on Messenger's mission, said.
The Mercury ice findings were to be published Thursday on the journal Science's website.
In addition to the ice found on Mercury, the findings suggest that carbon-based organic matter also exists on the small planet. Carbon is one of the building blocks of life on Earth, and such a finding is intriguing, though the lack of an atmosphere on Mercury renders the possibility of life being found there as unlikely, according to Cosmos magazine.
Still, the discoveries made by Messenger and announced on Thursday are exciting and important ones that change scientists' perceptions of Mercury.
"The fact that organic matter and water ice were found together suggests that Mercury, like Mars, Earth and the Moon before it, was the victim of asteroid or comet impacts that brought the molecules to the planet’s surface, according to the researchers of three papers published simultaneously in the U.S. journal Science," Cosmos magazine explained.
Messenger continues to circle Mercury, according to Space.com, and it has further mission objectives to complete before its run comes to a close:
"Messenger will spiral closer to the planet in 2014 and 2015 as it runs out of fuel and is perturbed by the sun's and Mercury's gravity. This will let researchers peer closer at the water ice as they figure out how much is there."