Categories: MercuryPlanet News

New Features Discovered On Mercury Could Be Evidence Of Hydrogen Geysers And Metallic Iron


How long has it been since you’ve taken a good look at Mercury? For the backyard astronomer, all we’ll ever see is the speedy little planet as a bright crescent a few times a year. But, for the MESSENGER spacecraft, Mercury isn’t quite as boring as you might think! Some strange new features have been spotted and a planetary geologist speculates they could be attributed to hydrogen venting from the planet’s interior.

While it’s only been a week since MESSENGER sent back some curious photos of Mercury’s surface, the revelation has created quite a stir in the planetary science community. These observations have included evidence of shallow depressions which have formed into non-uniform crater structures which appear to be recent. In addition, they have a high albedo – indicative of some sort of reflective material. But, what?

According to Marvin Herndon, an independent scientist based in San Diego, Mercury formed under great pressure and high temperature – enough to leave iron in a molten state. If so, it should be responsible for absorbing large amounts of hydrogen. As it cools and transforms to a solid state, the hydrogen is then released, forming a type of “geyser” on the planet’s surface.

“These hydrogen geysers could certainly have caused the rimless depressions that MESSENGER sees.” says Herndon, a self-proclaimed maverick in the world of planetary geology.

As the hydrogen is released from below the planet’s surface, it would also react with other elements it would encounter – possibly iron sulphide, commonly found on Mercury’s surface. This would cause a reduction to metallic iron. From there it would form a light “dust” which could account for the bright, new features seen by MESSENGER.

Original Story Source: MIT Technology Review News Release. For Further Reading: Explanation for Observed Evidence of Geologically Recent Volatile-Related Activity on Mercury’s Surface.

Tammy Plotner

Tammy was a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status. (Tammy passed away in early 2015... she will be missed)

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