Scientists model Mercury's glaciers

December 28, 2018 by Margaret Nagle, University of Maine
Credit: University of Maine

The processes that led to glaciation at the cratered poles of Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, have been modeled by a University of Maine-led research team.

James Fastook, a UMaine professor of computer science and Climate Change Institute researcher, and James Head and Ariel Deutsch of Brown University, studied the accumulation and flow of ice on Mercury, and how the on the smallest planet in our solar system compare to those on Earth and Mars.

Their findings, published in the journal Icarus, add to our understanding of how Mercury's ice accumulations—estimated to be less than 50 million years old and up to 50 meters thick in places—may have changed over time. Changes in ice sheets serve as climatic indicators.

Analysis of Mercury's cold-based glaciers, located in the permanently shadowed craters near the poles and visible by Earth-based radar, was funded by a NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute grant for Evolution and Environment of Exploration Destinations, and is part of a study of volatile deposits on the moon.

Like the moon, Mercury does not have an atmosphere that produces snow or ice that could account for glaciers at the poles. Simulations by Fastook's team suggest that the planet's ice was deposited—likely the result of a water-rich comet or other impact event—and has remained stable, with little or no flow velocity. That's despite the extreme temperature difference between the permanently shadowed locations of the glaciers on Mercury and the adjacent regions illuminated by the sun.

One of the team's primary scientific tools was the University of Maine Ice Sheet Model (UMISM), developed by Fastook with National Science Foundation funding. Fastook has used UMISM to reconstruct the shape and outline of past and present ice sheets on Earth and Mars, with findings published in 2002 and 2008, respectively.

"We expect the deposits (on Mercury) are supply limited, and that they are basically stagnant unmoving deposits, reflecting the extreme efficiency of the cold-trapping mechanism" of the polar terrain, according to the researchers.

Explore further: Dawn maps Ceres craters where ice can accumulate

More information: James L. Fastook et al. Glaciation on Mercury: Accumulation and flow of ice in permanently shadowed circum-polar crater interiors, Icarus (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2018.07.004

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14 comments

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rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2018
I had always assumed that Mercury, being so close to Sun? Would not have sustainable Polar ice caps. Especially lasting tens of millions of years!

I thought it's proximity to Sol, would have heated up the little planet's crust. Hot enough to prevent ice caps.

Which brings up several interesting possibilities. Such as, why isn't the crust conducting heat to the poles? You would think it would even out after a few billion years?

Now I do not believe in Human Deep Space travel. However a number of readers do. For them, here is a potential target worth exploring. A hellava lot more interesting than Mars!

Whether for Robot or Human? Reliable sources of water are vital for sustainable exploration.

If there are unusual metal/mineral combinations? Water is needed for industrial processing. & for propellant mass & other volatile resupply.
Solon
1 / 5 (3) Dec 28, 2018
"Such as, why isn't the crust conducting heat to the poles? You would think it would even out after a few billion years?"

It is a 'fake' heat, a very thin surface layer heated by electron orbital transfer emissions due to short wavelength solar radiation bombardment, and not by sunlight such as we have on Earth. There is no sunlight at Mercury. As with the Moon, the heat would be found to penetrate only a few centimeters.

Shootist
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2018
Solon you are cuckoo.

noting something significant.

seems to me there was a great deal of water delivered by impactors deep into the zone of fire. Yeah Earth got its oceans from the LHB.
Solon
1 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2018
"Solon you are cuckoo."

Find me a visible light PHOTOGRAPH of Mercury taken from space and I will then agree with you. You won't find one from Messenger.
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2018
Find me a visible light PHOTOGRAPH of Mercury taken from space and I will then agree with you. You won't find one from Messenger.


https://lightsint...mercury/
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2018
Find me a visible light PHOTOGRAPH of Mercury taken from space and I will then agree with you. You won't find one from Messenger.


https://lightsint...mercury/
@Phyllis Harmonic
have you ever checked out Cosmoquest? https://cosmoquest.org/x/

pretty freakin' cool citizen science going on there, if you're interested
Old_C_Code
1 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2018
Mercury is tidally locked to the Sun, hence a very cold dark side. It has nothing to do with it's poles.
Solon
not rated yet Dec 30, 2018
Phyllis Harmonic, that's a lovely image but is not from the type of camera that the ISS crew uses to photograph the Earth from the cupola. It is a spectral device and the RGB filters are misleading as the images are created from absorption lines of the surface material. A Nikon D4 would likely see nothing from orbit, but we will never know as they do not send ordinary cameras out there.
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2018
pretty freakin' cool citizen science going on there, if you're interested


Thanks, Capt'n !

Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2018
Phyllis Harmonic, that's a lovely image but is not from the type of camera that the ISS crew uses to photograph the Earth from the cupola.


Ah, I see you're moving the goal posts so let's start with the fact that digital cameras, regardless of brand or type, use filters to separate visible light into separate channels. The filter cuts may be different between the cameras on Messenger and a Nikion DLSR but they both separate visible light into separate bands. Turns out the cuts are different between camera brands too- it's one of the things that gives each brand a unique visual character. So, no two brands of digital cameras see colors the same way.

And then consider that all digital cameras process the signal from the sensor chip using proprietary algorithms, so again, there is no real basis for comparison between the Messenger cameras and your prosumer Nikon. Or between your Nikon and Olympus, or Leica, or Fugi, or Cannon, or Sony . . .
rrwillsj
not rated yet Dec 31, 2018
Phyllis, now you got me wondering what my old Brownie box camera could of done with images yaken from the ISS?
Solon
not rated yet Dec 31, 2018
"Ah, I see you're moving the goal posts.."

Digital cameras all use Bayer filters and are designed to give a very close approximation if what our eyes would see. Sure there are many parameters that can be fiddled with, but I'd like to know what the camera would show is set to full auto, along with the EXIF file so I could determine light levels. I can find no info on photometric values for Mercury, and trying to determine them from the data available from the Messenger instruments, well, I admit that has me stumped.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Dec 31, 2018
@Phyllis Harmonic
Thanks, Capt'n !
You bet! I've been doing it a while now and I enjoy it!

Plus, there is different stuff you can get involved in, like comparing ISS pics to Google Maps, etc (fun too)

If ya have a question, just ask. Dr. Pam is awesome, and so are the others there

.

.

@solon
but I'd like to know what the camera would show
http://messenger....nts.html

http://messenger....-mercury

maybe you can get your exif data there as well
if not, talk to the POC in the image use page here: http://messenger....ent.html

dsylvan
not rated yet Jan 08, 2019


@someone
Phyllis, now you got me wondering what my old
insertion
Brownie box camera could of done with images yaken from the ISS?

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