The Cosmic Chronicles – The Mercury Enigma

From the Earth, to the Sun and out towards the great interstellar unknown every object has it’s story. All these things making up the universe, our solar system and life on Earth is as much a part of this great infinite clockwork. In fact the word Cosmos means the universe as a complex, ordered entity, delicately tied together with forces and matter. We are the great paradox, the universe looking upon itself and learning, maybe giving it meaning. Epic and almost unimaginable events have unfolded to make the Cosmos as we see it now, stories have unravelled before there was even a human around to tell the story. Long after the human race is gone the great cosmic story will keep unfolding until time is meaningless. Slowly we pick up the events piece by piece and these Stories of the Cosmos tell some of what currently know and understand.

The Enigma Of Mercury

The four inner planets of the solar system are dense, rocky worlds, much smaller than the gas and ice giants further out. The closest of these to the Sun is Mercury, sitting in a burning part of the solar system where the relentless heat and light bombard the tiny planet not much bigger than our own Moon. For a long time Mercury was thought to be an unremarkable world with little interest. That is – until we looked a little deeper.

Mecury – Credit NASA

The planets in the solar system formed when the gas dust and rock that surrounded our young Sun began to collect and condense, forming ever larger planets that settled into orbits where they remain today. But with Mercury there’s a question not just about how it formed into the planet we see today – but also where it formed. On Earth the core in the centre takes up less than 20% of the total make up of the planet, yet Mercury seems to be an orbiting planetary core, making up around half the planet. It seems that Mercury may be missing a huge amount of its outer shell.

What happened?

Is there some way in which the planet formed that did this?

Did a massive impact tear away much of the original Mercury?

It’s impossible to know for certain, the events that shaped the solar system happened millions or billions of years ago. However a clue to this might be in Mercury’s highly elliptical orbit. At its closest Mercury is 29 millions miles from the Sun and 43 million miles at it’s maximum. Mercury has the most elliptical orbit of any planet in the solar system.

Another clue lies much closer to Mercury, only with the creation of space probes would it be possible to measure any atmosphere that exists. It’s not a surprise that a planet so close to the searing solarwinds of the Sun that Mercury has no atmosphere, however NASA’s space probe Messenger was able to detect chemicals escaping the planet, evaporated from the crust and escaping into space. Oxygen, Hydrogen and Helium were among them, but more surprisingly were Sodium and Potassium. This is a surprise becasue these elements shouldn’t exist so close to the Sun. As well as this water ice exists on the surface of the barren planet, in the shadows at the bottom of deep, dark craters where the temperature, far from being hot the temperature in these craters is well below freezing.

An Inward Journey

One hypothesis is that Mercury did not form where it is today, instead the planet may have formed much further out. Perhaps between Earth and Mars, this young Mercury may have had oceans of water – it may have been a planet suitable for life with an atmosphere and a temperature that wasn’t too hot or too cold.
Mercury was pushed or pulled inwards towards the Sun by the gravity of a massive object like the growing Jupiter, young Mercury may have collided with another world. The collision stripped the planet of its outer outer layers and sending it further inwards towards the Sun, where it now sits in it’s elongated dance. Barren and totally lifeless, a world of extremes, intense, unrelenting heat and cold. Marked by the impacts of eons of bombardment.

This theory is just one possibility about Mercury’s beginnings, others suggest the material from the planet has escaped, rock and metal burned away by the Sun and escaping it’s gravity and either blown away by the solar wind or pulled into its stellar neighbour.

Mercury turned out to be so much more than a dead ball of rock, burning and freezing in the void. It has a story, a story that may have meaning for us on Earth, it may yet reveal clues that tell us whether once it was a water world. Or it may show us something else even more incredible. One barren ball of rock can tell an incredible story, just one story in this incredible cosmos in which we exist.

© Simon Farnell 2013 – 2022

Images remain property of original owners.

Did you Know… In 2017 How to make Slime was the most popular…

Fact, snippets of useless information and all of that kind of thing makes up most of what’s in my brain – so I thought I would infect the general interweb with al of this and see what fact I can trawl for you! Enjoy! Did you know… I have nothing to say on this one, … Continue reading Did you Know… In 2017 How to make Slime was the most popular…

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