New observations by the MESSENGER spacecraft provide compelling support for the long-held hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters. [...] According to Paige, the dark material is likely a mix of complex organic compounds delivered to Mercury by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids, the same objects that likely delivered water to the innermost planet.The organic material may have been darkened further by exposure to the harsh radiation at Mercury's surface, even in permanently shadowed areas.
These findings are presented in three papers published online today in Science Express.
Thermal Stability of Volatiles in the North Polar Region of Mercury
Bright and Dark Polar Deposits on Mercury: Evidence for Surface Volatiles
Evidence for Water Ice Near Mercury's North Pole from MESSENGER Neutron Spectrometer Measurements
Guardian writeup. Reuters writeup. AP. Newsy video.
Kevin Street: This is just speculation, but I don't think it could work that way. If there was some kind of atmosphere on Mercury (there's a faint wisp of gas, but 1 nPa is barely anything) there might be more of a temperature spread. But since it's practically vacuum the shadows will be very hard edged, and the boundary between searing heat and terrible cold should be very thin.
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