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Volcanoes on Mercury

January 14, 2010

Ancient volcanoes found on the planet mercury challenge assumptions about the planet’s chemical composition.


A planet’s volcanic childhood. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
The planet Mercury has long been a mystery. It’s so close to the sun that visiting it is difficult. But recent flybys by the MESSENGER spacecraft are revealing much about the planet. Graduate student Laura Kerber works in the lab of Brown University planetary geologist James Head, and is especially interested in the discovery of volcanoes on Mercury.
LAURA KERBER (Brown University):
Because to have a volcano on the planet meant that you’d have to have some of these elements that drive volcanic eruptions—such as some compounds like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water—these are the things that drive volcanic eruptions.
She says it was thought that such compounds couldn’t survive so near the sun. In 2011, MESSENGER will go into orbit around the planet, allowing Kerber and hundreds of other scientists to learn more about Mercury, and the history of our solar system. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.