NASA MESSENGER: Meteorite Key To Resolving Mercury, 5800 Lava Deposits Formation

First Posted: Jun 29, 2016 08:42 AM EDT

Geologists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have deciphered the history of Mercury from a rare meteorite through collecting measurements of the planet's chemical composition through NASA's MESSENGER probe. The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft was taking data and images on Mercury's surface between 2011 and 2015.

Through the X-ray spectrometer fastened to the spacecraft, MESSENGER measured the X-ray radiation from the planet's surface. It was produced by solar flares on the sun to determine the chemical composition of more than 5,800 lava deposits on Mercury's surface, Science Daily reported. 

What geologists have found out was how Mercury's cooling history between 3.7 and 4.2 billion years ago have produced the properties of enstatite chondrite, a type of meteorite that is extremely rare on Earth. After Mercury's interior temperatures plummeted by 240 degrees Celsius, or 464 degrees Fahrenheit, the planet was formed together with more than 5,800 lava deposits.  

Olivier Namur of the University of Hanover, confirmed the information about the surface compositions of all locations and correlated them with the type of terrain there is; from heavily cratered regions to less impacted ones. According to Science Bulletin, the more craters there are in a region, the older the surface is, and vice versa. The MIT researchers were able to understand how the ages of Mercury's lava composition, with older deposits measuring around 4.2 billion years old, were very different from younger deposits estimated to be 3.7 billion years of age.

"We now know something like an enstatite chondrite was the starting material for Mercury, which is surprising, because they are about 10 standard deviations away from all other chondrites," Timothy Grove, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geology in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences said.

Meanwhile, Grove affirmed that this new information on Mercury's past is of interest for tracing Earth's origin and early formation.

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

©2017 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. The window to the world of science news.

Join the Conversation

Real Time Analytics