This spot on Mercury (almost) never goes dark

Apr 26, 2013 by Jason Major, Universe Today
A close “peak of eternal light” (PEL) near Mercury’s south pole.

Mercury, traveling in its 88-day-long orbit around the Sun with basically zero axial tilt, has many craters at its poles whose insides literally never see the light of day. These permanently-shadowed locations have been found by the MESSENGER mission to harbor considerable deposits of ice (a seemingly ironic discovery on a planet two-and-a-half times closer to the Sun than we are!*)

But if there are places on where the Sun never shines (insert butt joke here) then there may also be places where it always does. That's what researchers are looking for in maps made from MESSENGER data… and they're getting closer.

The image above shows a region near Mercury's south pole. The yellow arrow points to the closest thing to a true "peak of eternal light" found thus far on Mercury, a point that receives about 82% of the time—almost constantly illuminated.

From the JHUAPL MESSENGER mission site:

Studies of the illumination conditions near the north and south poles of Mercury are of interest because they can be used to determine locations of permanent shadow, extremely cold places where ice deposits lurk. However, the illumination maps also reveal the locations that receive the maximum duration of sunlight during a Mercury solar day.

A "peak of eternal light" that is illuminated continuously for an entire solar day would be a favorable target for a lander, because solar power would be available all the time. So far, no such peak of eternal light has been identified at Mercury's .

The spot that get the most illumination (about 82%), is located at 89° S, 50.7° E.

Illumination map of Mercury’s south polar region (Pub. March 2012).

This image was acquired as part of MDIS's campaign to monitor the south polar region of Mercury. By imaging the polar region approximately every four MESSENGER orbits as illumination conditions change, features that were in shadow on earlier orbits can be discerned and any permanently shadowed areas can be identified after repeated imaging over one solar day.

The top image above was acquired on Dec. 24, 2011. The large crater is Chao Meng-Fu, about 129 km (80 mi.) in diameter. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

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

Related Stories

Mercury down under

Feb 27, 2012

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, about to wrap up its first full year in orbit around Mercury, captured this view of the planet’s heavily-cratered southern hemisphere on August 28, 2011. Because of its ...

Evidence for active hollows formation on Mercury

Dec 20, 2012

A recent image acquired by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft shows the interior of Eminescu, a youngish 130-km (80 mile) wide crater just north of Mercury's equator. Eminescu made science headlines last year with MESS ...

A fascinating 'new' planet

Feb 11, 2013

NASA has recently discovered a very strange planet.  Its days are twice as long as its years.  It has a tail like a comet. It is hot enough to melt lead, yet capped by deposits of ice. And to top it all ...

A peek at a pitch-black pit

Mar 20, 2012

MESSENGER captured this high-resolution image of an elongated pit crater within the floor of the 355-km (220-mile) -wide crater Tolstoj on Mercury on Jan. 11, 2012. The low angle of sun illumination puts the ...

Recommended for you

What is the newest planet?

18 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

18 hours ago

Do you feel a little… 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

18 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.