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MERCURY

Mercury is the smallest and closest to the Sun of the eight planets in the Solar System, with an orbital period of about 88 Earth days. Seen from Earth, it appears to move around its orbit in about 116 days, which is much faster than any other planet. Because it has almost no atmosphere to retain heat, Mercury's surface experiences the greatest temperature variation of all the planets , ranging from 100 K (173 C) at night to 700 K (427 C) during the day at some equatorial regions. The poles are constantly below 180 K (93 C). Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets (about 130 of a degree), but it has the largest orbital eccentricity. Mercury's surface is heavily cratered and similar in appearance to the Moon, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years .

Mercury is gravitationally locked and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around its orbit. As seen from the Sun, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two years. Because Mercury's orbit lies within Earth's orbit it can appear in Earth's sky in the morning or the evening, but not in the middle of the night. Also, like Venus and the Moon, it displays a complete range of phases as it moves around its orbit relative to Earth.

Internal structure

Mercury is one of four terrestrial planets in the Solar System, and is a rocky body like Earth. It is the smallest planet in the Solar System, with an equatorial radius of 2,439.7 km. Mercury consists of approximately 70% metallic and 30% silicate material. Mercury's density is the second highest in the Solar System at 5.427 g/cm3. Mercury's density can be used to infer details of its inner structure. For it to have such a high density, its core must be large and rich in iron. Geologists estimate that Mercury's core occupies about 42% of its volume. Research published in 2007 suggests that Mercury has a molten core.

Surrounding the core is a mantle consisting of silicates.


Mercury's crust is believed to be 100300 km thick. One distinctive feature of Mercury's surface is the presence of numerous narrow ridges, extending up to several hundred kilometers in length. It is believed that these were formed as Mercury's core and mantle cooled and contracted at a time when the crust had already solidified. Mercury's core has a higher iron content than that of any other major planet in the Solar System, and several theories have been proposed to explain this. The most widely accepted theory is that Mercury originally had a metal-silicate ratio similar to common chondrite meteorites, thought to be typical of the Solar System's rocky matter, and a mass approximately 2.25 times its current mass.

Mercury's Surface
Mercury's surface is very similar in appearance to that of the Moon, showing extensive mare-like plains and heavy cratering, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Mercury possesses dorsa (wrinkle-ridges), Moon-like highlands, mountains, plains, rupes (escarpments), and valleys.

Magnetic field and magnetosphere


Despite its small size and slow 59-day-long rotation, Mercury has a significant, and apparently global, magnetic field. According to measurements, it is about 1.1% as strong as Earth's. The magnetic field strength at the Mercurian equator is about 300 nT. Like that of Earth, Mercury's magnetic field is dipolar. Unlike Earth, Mercury's poles are nearly aligned with the planet's spin axis. Measurements have indicated that the strength and shape of the magnetic field are stable. It is likely that this magnetic field is generated by way of a dynamo effect, in a manner similar to the magnetic field of Earth. This dynamo effect would result from the circulation of the planet's iron-rich liquid core. Particularly strong tidal effects caused by the planet's high orbital eccentricity would serve to keep the core in the liquid state necessary for this dynamo effect. Mercury's magnetic field is strong enough to deflect the solar wind around the planet, creating a magnetosphere. The planet's magnetosphere, is strong enough to trap solar wind plasma. This contributes to the space weathering of the planet's surface.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT MERCURY


1. Half of Mercury had never been seen 2. Mercury has a magnetic field 3. There might be ice on Mercury
There are regions on the surface of Mercury which are never heated by the Sun. These are craters around the poles of the planet which are eternally in shadow. And because theyre in shadow, they can be hundreds of degrees below zero. Water could form ice in these craters that could last for millions of years.

4. You can see Mercury with your own eyes


The only times you can actually observe it is when the Sun has just set, or is about to rise. You only have a short amount of time to spot it, and you need a place that has a clear view to the horizon.

5. We have known about Mercury for millennia


Unlike Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were discovered in the last few hundred years, ancient peoples have known about Mercury for thousands of years. There are recorded observations of Mercury made by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

6. Mercury has an atmosphere


It does have a tenuous atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium and potassium around it. They dont form a stable atmosphere. Instead, theres a constant flow of these atoms into orbit around Mercury, and then the Suns solar wind blasts it away into space .

7. The orbit of Mercury helped prove Einsteins theories of relativity


As astronomers got more and more accurate instruments, and a way to mathematically describe the motions of the planets, they realized there was something wrong with Mercurys movements around the Earth. They noticed that the closest point of Mercurys orbit was slowly moving around the Sun. And they didnt know why. It finally took Einsteins calculations of general relativity to pred ict the motions of Mercury exactly.

8. Hubble cant look at Mercury at all


The Hubble Space Telescope has never been used to observe Mercury, and it never will be. The planet is so close to the Sun that the light from the Sun would overwhelm Hubble, and could permanently damage its optics and electronics.