After months of hullabaloo over the Curiosity rover's Martian activities, its nice to see Mercury getting a little love. NASA has announced that its Messenger probe, which has collected more than 100,000 images of Mercury since its launch in 2004, found evidence of "abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials" on the planet closest to the sun.
NASA's release explains:
Given its proximity to the Sun, Mercury would seem to be an unlikely place to find ice. But the tilt of Mercury's rotational axis is almost zero — less than one degree — so there are pockets at the planet's poles that never see sunlight. Scientists suggested decades ago that there might be water ice and other frozen volatiles trapped at Mercury's poles.
While the discovery of water doesn't necessarily mean we'll be greeting aliens from Mercury anytime soon, NASA's scientists are interested in a possibly organic material coating the ice.
"Researchers are now working to determine if they indeed saw organics on Mercury. So far, they suspect Mercury's water ice is coated with a 4-inch (10 centimeters) blanket of 'thermally insulating material. It will take further study to figure out exactly what this material is, but Neumann said the early temperature curves could show organic materials such as amino acids." Space.com's Elizabeth Howell reports.