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Wed 07 Nov 2012 07:39:19 | 0 comments

Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System. It is also the smallest, and its orbit is the mosteccentric (that is, the least perfectly circular) of the eight planets. It orbits the Sun once in about 88 Earth days, completing three rotations about its axis for every two orbits. The planet is named after the Romangod Mercury, the messenger to the gods.

Mercury's surface is heavily cratered and similar in appearance to Earth's Moon, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Due to its near lack of an atmosphere to retain heat, Mercury's surface experiences the steepest temperature gradient of all the planets, ranging from a very cold 100 K at night to a very hot 700 K during the day. Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets, but Mercury's orbital eccentricity is the largest. The seasons on the planet's surface are caused by the variation of its distance from the Sun rather than by the axial tilt, which is the main cause of seasons on Earth and other planets. At perihelion, the intensity of sunlight on Mercury's surface is more than twice the intensity at aphelion. Because the seasons of the planet are produced by the orbital eccentricity instead of the axial tilt, the season does not differ between its two hemispheres.

Mercury and Venus can each make appearances in Earth's sky both as a morning star and an evening star (because they are closer to the Sun than the Earth), and at times Mercury can technically be regarded as a very bright object when viewed from Earth; however, its proximity in the sky to the Sun makes it more difficult to see than Venus.

Internal structure

Terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus,Earth, and Mars (to scale)
Internal structure of Mercury:
1. Crust: 100–300 km thick
2. Mantle: 600 km thick
3. Core: 1,800 km radius

Mercury is one of four terrestrial planets in the Solar System, and is a rocky body like the Earth. It is the smallest planet in the Solar System, with an equatorial radius of 2,439.7 km.Mercury is even smaller—albeit more massive—than thelargest natural satellites in the Solar System, Ganymede andTitan. 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, only slightly less than Earth’s density of 5.515 g/cm3. If the effect ofgravitational compression were to be factored out, the materials of which Mercury is made would be denser, with an uncompressed density of 5.3 g/cm3 versus Earth’s 4.4 g/cm3.

Mercury’s density can be used to infer details of its inner structure. While the Earth’s high density results appreciably from gravitational compression, particularly at the core, Mercury is much smaller and its inner regions are not nearly as strongly compressed. Therefore, 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; for Earth this proportion is 17%. Recent research strongly suggests that Mercury has a molten core. Surrounding the core is a 500–700 km mantle consisting of silicates. Based on data from the Mariner 10 mission and Earth-based observation, Mercury’scrust is believed to be 100–300 km thick.[19] 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. Early in the Solar System’s history, Mercury may have been struck by a planetesimal of approximately 1/6 that mass and several hundred kilometers across.The impact would have stripped away much of the original crust and mantle, leaving the core behind as a relatively major component. A similar process, known as the giant impact hypothesis, has been proposed to explain the formation of Earth’s Moon.

Alternatively, Mercury may have formed from the solar nebula before the Sun's energy output had stabilized. The planet would initially have had twice its present mass, but as the protosun contracted, temperatures near Mercury could have been between 2,500 and 3,500 K (Celsius equivalents about 273 degrees less), and possibly even as high as 10,000 K. Much of Mercury’s surface rock could have been vaporized at such temperatures, forming an atmosphere of "rock vapor" which could have been carried away by thesolar wind.

A third hypothesis proposes that the solar nebula caused drag on the particles from which Mercury wasaccreting, which meant that lighter particles were lost from the accreting material. Each hypothesis predicts a different surface composition, and two upcoming space missions, MESSENGER andBepiColombo, both aim to make observations to test them. MESSENGER has found higher-than-expected potassium and sulfur levels on the surface, suggesting that the giant impact hypothesis and vaporization of the crust and mantle did not occur since potassium and sulfur would have been driven off by the extreme heat of these events. The findings seem to favor the third hypothesis in which many lighter planetary materials were driven off leaving behind higher metal concentrations.

Reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_(planet)

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