Life on Mercury

by Jerry Coffey on December 9, 2008

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Color image of Mercury. Image credit: NASA

Color image of Mercury. Image credit: NASA


Mercurian world is one of extremes. 700 Kelvin on the side exposed to the Sun, yet some areas are never exposed to sunlight and are as cold as deep space. Scientists do not believe there has ever been life on Mercury. The atmosphere on Mercury is almost non-existant. It doesn’t protect the planet from the harsh radiation of the Sun or radiation from space, nor does it trap heat and provide a breathable atmosphere. Mercury is inhospitable and sterile.

In order for life (as we know it) to exist, Mercury would need to have temperatures that allow liquid water to remain on its surface for long periods of time. But the temperatures on Mercury extend from just above absolute zero when the surface is shadowed to 700 Kelvin when its in sunlight. Liquid water just can’t exist in that kind of environment.

Any ancient life on Mercury would have faced many extinction events. Here on Earth many past life forms have been destroyed by asteroid impacts. The dinosaurs are a classic example. Images of Mercury’s surface returned by the Mariner 10 and MESSENGER spacecraft have shown that the surface has suffered many large impacts. In fact, it was heavily bombarded during the Late Heavy Bombardment that occurred about 3.9 billion years ago. Any one of those impacts could have destroyed any life on the planet. Many scientists believe that a great deal of the planet’s surface was stripped away by one impact. If the impact removed a large portion of the surface, surely it would have taken any life that existed at the time with it.

All evidence that science has do date indicates that there has never been life on Mercury and never will be. The harsh conditions on the planet’s surface and the tenuous atmosphere make it impossible for any life form known to man to exist.

But there are other planets in the Solar System. Here’s an article about life on Pluto, and here’s one about life on Mars.

If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.

We have also recorded a whole episode of Astronomy Cast that’s just about planet Mercury. Listen to it here, Episode 49: Mercury.

Vida sobre el mercurio

References:
NASA Solar System Exploration: Mercury
Wikipedia
JAXA: Mercury Quantities
NASA MESSENGER Mission
NASA Multimedia

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