Scientists say blazing heat on Mercury could help the planet make ice

When most people think of Mercury, they think of a scorching planet, and that would be accurate. Daytime temperatures on Mercury can reach 400 degrees Celsius or 750 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a new study says that the extreme heat on the planet likely helps to make some of the ice that is found on its surface.

While much the surface is bathed in blazing heat; there are some nooks in polar craters on the planet that never see sunlight and maintain a temperature in the area of -200 degrees Celsius. Scientists say that those extremely cold nooks in the polar craters create a giant ice-making chemistry lab. A new study shows that solar winds that hit the planet that are charged with particles and deliver protons that are key to the chemistry on the planet.

The new scientific model also presents a possible path for water to collect as ice on the planet. Scientists say that minerals in the Mercury surface soil contain hydroxyl groups that are mainly generated by protons. The extreme heat helps to free up the hydroxyl groups and then energizes them to smash into each other to produce water molecules and hydrogen that lift off the surface and drift around the planet.

Some of those water molecules are broken down by sunlight or rise far above the surface of the planet while others land near Mercury's poles in permanent shadow craters that shield the ice from the sun. Since Mercury has no atmosphere and no air to conduct the heat, the water molecules become part of the permanent glacial ice housed in the shadows.

Scientists say that the total amount that they postulate would become ice is 1013 kilograms over about 3 million years. The process could easily account for up to 10 percent of the total ice on the planet.