After six long years of space travel, NASA’s Messenger probe will finally be able to experience a close encounter with the world known as Mercury.
Although most of the planet has already been mapped, scientists are hoping that Messenger will be able to confirm whether or not the first rock from the Sun harbors water upon its Sun baked surface.
Most intriguing is what Messenger will find when it peers into craters near Mercury’s poles. The day side of Mercury reaches 800 degrees Fahrenheit, but within the shadows of the polar craters, where the Sun never shines, temperatures are thought to be around minus 300 degrees.
That means there could be large deposits of water ice on Mercury. Radar measurements from Earth have already given suggestions of water, but some scientists believe that the deposits could instead be sulfur or silicates, which could produce the same radar results. (New York Times)
If water is confirmed to exist within the shadowy craters of Mercury, it could potentially open up the planet for settlement in the semi-distant future.
While colonists would be insane to venture outside during the Mercurian day, they would be able to explore the surface during the night without fear of being irradiated thanks to the planet’s magnetic field.
Although the existence of water ice would not raise Mercury’s profile as a world humanity would need to conquer (unless of course a massive amount of metals and minerals are discovered upon the surface), it would help make the world a lot easier to inhabit for future settlers.