Characterizing the surface composition of Mercury

Sep 17, 2012
Mercury. Credit: NASA

The MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, has been revealing new information about the surface chemistry and geological history of the innermost planet in the solar system.

Weider et al. recently analyzed 205 measurements of the surface composition from MESSENGER's X-, focusing on the large expanse of smooth volcanic plains at high northern latitudes and surrounding areas that are higher in crater density and therefore older than the northern plains.

In general, the measurements show that Mercury's is very different from that of other planets in the solar system. It is dominated by minerals high in magnesium and enriched in sulfur. This composition is similar to that expected from partial melts of enstatite chondrites, a rare type of meteorite that formed at high temperatures in highly reducing (low oxygen) conditions in the .

In addition, the researchers find that the composition of Mercury's northern plains deposits differs from that of the surrounding older terrain. In particular, the older terrain has higher ratios of magnesium to silicon, sulfur to silicon, and calcium to silicon, but lower ratios of aluminum to silicon. These differences suggest that the smooth plains material erupted from a magma source that was chemically different from the source of the material in the older regions. Future studies will help constrain further the formation and geological history of Mercury.

Explore further: SpaceX close to figuring out rocket failure during launch

More information: Chemical heterogeneity on Mercury's surface revealed by the MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, doi:10.1029/2012JE004153

Related Stories

Recommended for you

What is the newest planet?

7 hours ago

With astronomers discovering new planets and other celestial objects all the time, you may be wondering what the newest planet to be discovered is. Well, that depends on your frame of reference. If we are ...

Catching Earth at aphelion

7 hours ago

Do you feel a littleā€¦ distant today? The day after the 4th of July weekend brings with it the promise of barbecue leftovers and discount fireworks. It also sees our fair planet at aphelion, or its farthest ...

Opportunity's 7th Mars winter to include new study area

8 hours ago

Operators of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity plan to drive the rover into a valley this month where Opportunity will be active through the long-lived rover's seventh Martian winter, examining outcrops ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.