back to article Space probe in orbit above Mercury sees signs of polar ice

Space boffins reviewing data from a probe craft orbiting Mercury, innermost planet of the solar system, say they have seen signs of glaciers lurking within shadowed craters at the poles. The planet Mercury as seen from the MESSENGER probe. Credit: NASA/UCSB Gad, it's a barren, heavily cratered desert out there. Except for …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A Snowball does have a chance in Hell after all then?

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson


    In more ways than one.

  3. John Hawkins

    Had to check the date...

    and, no, it wasn't the first of April.

  4. Paul Powell

    What's with the tortured acronyms?

    Once upon a time they named space missions to be mythic (Mercury the swift messenger, Gemini - the twins etc) then they transitioned with Apollo (both mythic and the acronym "America's Program for Orbital and Lunar Landing Operations") and gone further into contorted acronyms ever since.

    Why not just name it something and have a separate description rather than a painfully contrived acronym that gives very little understanding...


    1. Ru

      Well, its a tradition now.

      You may as well ask why porn film names tend to be parodies of blockbuster film names.

      Me, I'm holding out for the "Contrived Ridiculous Acronym Producer: Now Another Mangled Eponym", but maybe that's not tortuous enough for the establishment to accept.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: What's with the tortured acronyms?

      Apollo acronym?? That's the first I've heard of that in 45 years of being a space nut...

  5. Denarius Silver badge

    does this support Manual Olivers nova hypothesis ?

    Flying a kite here. He suggests the sun is the remnant of a rapidly rotating supernova explosion, hence the inner planets are denser as they are condensed from the inner layers.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: does this support Manual Olivers nova hypothesis ?

      Obvious problem:

      If yellow dwarves are the remnants of supernovae, the night sky should be like a firework display as the things are rather common.

      Other obvious problem:

      As supernovae occur when stars have exhausted their hydrogen, been through the helium cycle and are running out of options in heavier fusion cycles, causing collapse, where's the sun got all it's hydrogen from? Does this theory require the involvement of the hydrogen fairies?

    2. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: does this support Manual Olivers nova hypothesis ?

      Not at all.

      The inner planets are denser for two reasons - none of them are massive enough to hold on to hydrogen and helium atmospheres, and secondly because radiation from the Sun has either cooked off, or blown off a large proportion of their volatile elements.

  6. Morphius

    "Other revelations include the fact that Mercury's core is huge as these things go, making up fully 85 per cent of the planet, and that its surface is comparatively flat and featureless compared to the mountainous terrain of Earth or Mars."

    Wait a second, thats no pla...... ok, ok, I am leaving already!

  7. Thomas 18

    Liquid water

    Wonder if there's a band on the edge of the glaciers that's still in shadow but heated by conduction from the atmosphere, could maybe be liquid water.... oh well it looks like Mercury doesn't really have an atmosphere anyway... so much for that theory.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Liquid water

      Sadly, probably not. Since Mercury has no atmosphere to speak of (any it might once have had would ahve been blasted away by the solar wind eons ago), any ice that gets warm enough to melt would sublime first, and meet the same fate as any other gas there. (The triple point of water, where it transtitions between solid, liquid and gas is at a smidge over 600Pa of pressure, about nine orders of magnitude greater than the surface pressure on Mercury.)

      1. DJ 2

        Re: Liquid water

        Don't forget that Mercury is tidaly locked to the sun, so the cold side always points away, there is no heating.

        1. hplasm

          Re: Liquid water

          It's not fully tidally locked: it has a long day, rotating 3 times for 2 revolutions of the Sun.

        2. Jess

          Re: Liquid water

          "Until radar observations in 1965 proved otherwise, it was thought that Mercury was tidally locked with the Sun. Instead, it turned out that Mercury has a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance, rotating three times for every two revolutions around the Sun; the eccentricity of Mercury's orbit makes this resonance stable. Astronomers originally thought Mercury was tidally locked because whenever it was best placed for observation it was at the same point in its 3:2 resonance, showing the same face, just as it would appear if it were tidally locked."

        3. mark 63 Silver badge

          tidally locked?


          How come the article suggests that 'parts of some impact craters are in permanent shadow' when by your reckoning half the planet is in permanent shadow?

          1. Blain Hamon

            Re: tidally locked?

            Because this is at the poles, inside a crater. Either the ice is in the shadow of one side of the crater wall, or in the shadow of the other side of the crater wall.

    2. Supplicant

      Re: Liquid water

      So, what you're saying is that it's cold outside and there's no kind of atmosphere?

      Sounds like fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun.

  8. Alyas


    One of the more strained bacronyms I've seen.

  9. Tim Parker

    Also bulging craters and tilted landscapes...

  10. IglooDude

    "hence the MESSENGER readings have led to many an arm-waving argument in front of blackboards."

    Nice article, but it seems to make out the planetology boffins as somewhat mercurial in temperament.

    1. Gavin King

      By Jove...

      Mercurial in temperament? I thought that planetology boffins were somewhat saturnine by nature.

  11. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge

    Ice, ice, baby!

    I'm not disputing that this is a fantastic find for astronauts who like their drinks on the rocks. But I'm more concerned about that black flying thing on the right-hand center of the iconograph. Next to that one crater. It looks like some kind of alien mosquito. What issit? Is the planet small or is the insect big?

    1. Munchausen's proxy

      Re: Ice, ice, baby!

      It looks to me like a giant covered wagon on the back of a vulture. Has El Reg already landed the colonists?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had an old Mercury

    It ran hot and cold too.

  13. Big Al

    Could be exploitable

    I'm sure somebody could use a few tons of dry ice!

  14. Stevie


    First, let me say that the Register scores over these so-called "scientists" on the language front by the most welcome and apposite use of "Gad" in its caption. Compare this with the clumsy reaching and rule-breaking that was required to get the probe's name to spell "MESSENGER" when accronymified. The whole bunch should be horsewhipped.

    British Captioneering Journalists:1 American Scientists: Nil

    Second: Ice? Really? Someone needs to get these sliderule-toting poindexters a new calendar. April is still a week away.

  15. Tom_
    Thumb Up

    What I liked was...

    The attention to detail in using 'sulphur' in the article, except when quoting the American chap, who would use 'sulfur'.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: What I liked was...

      I noticed this too. It has always irked me that the IUPAC spelling is the American one, not the proper English one, which comes from the Latin, since it was known as an element for a number of centuries before the country of our misspelling cousins even came into existence...

      1. TheRealRoland

        Re: What I liked was...

        Don't get me started on aluminum...

  16. Jimbo 6

    That place reminds me of my ex-wife.

    Hot, but no sign of any intelligence.

  17. Oldfogey

    Larry Niven again

    I refer of course to "The Coldest Place", which appears to be set on Pluto, but at the end turns out to be set on the dark side of a tidally locked Mercury, subject to some libration.

    When it was discovered that Mercurary was not locked, he thought about re-writing it, but left it alone in the end.

    Now we discover there is probably ice on Mercury, so the story might still work anyway.

    I wonder if anybody has told Niven yet?

    I'll leave my coat - need to freeze to sub-zero extra fast to achieve a superconducting brain.

  18. Ron 6

    Direct evidence?

    "MDIS images show that all the radar-bright features near Mercury's south pole are located in areas of permanent shadow, and near Mercury's north pole such deposits are also seen only in shadowed regions, results consistent with the water-ice hypothesis."

    Do they have any spectral data? For all we know this could be something with a higher melting point (and density) than water that has condensed in these shadows.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...the second machine of humanity..."

    Is that a politically correct and horribly ugly way of avoiding use of the term "man-made"?

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