BALTIMORE — Scientists believe they have found ice inside craters near Mercury’s poles, a discovery they say could reveal more about the “building blocks” for life on other planets.
Though the small planet is closest to the sun, Mercury rotates nearly upright, meaning some areas on its poles never see sunlight.
Using evidence of reflectivity, surface temperatures and the presence of excess hydrogen gathered by NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, the scientists have concluded that there are deposits of ice and other organic material accumulated on Mercury’s surface.
Further study of the material could explain more about how life began on Earth, the scientists said at a NASA news conference broadcast online.
The discovery comes after a wait of eight years since Messenger’s 2004 launch.
“Messenger has revealed a very important chapter in the story of how water, ice and other volatile materials have been delivered to the inner planets, including Mercury,” said Sean C. Solomon, a Columbia University scientist who is principal investigator of the Messenger mission.
Much of the research was based at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The scientists published their research in the journal Science Express.