Introduction :

Mercury is the smallest and closest planet to the Sun in the Solar System. Its orbit around the Sun takes 87.97 Earth days, the shortest of all the planets in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman god Mercurius (Mercury), god of commerce, messenger of the gods, and mediator between gods and mortals, corresponding to the Greek god Hermes .

Like Venus, Mercury orbits the Sun within Earth's orbit as an inferior planet, and its apparent distance from the Sun as viewed from Earth never exceeds 28°. This proximity to the Sun means the planet can only be seen near the western horizon after sunset or the eastern horizon before sunrise, usually in twilight. At this time, it may appear as a bright star-like object, but is often far more difficult to observe than Venus. The planet telescopically displays the complete range of phases, similar to Venus and the Moon, as it moves in its inner orbit relative to Earth, which recurs over its synodic period of approximately 116 days.

Mercury rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. It is tidally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 spin–orbit resonance,] meaning that relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun. As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two Mercurian years.

Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets (about ​1⁄30 degree). Its orbital eccentricity is the largest of all known planets in the Solar System; at perihelion, Mercury's distance from the Sun is only about two-thirds (or 66%) of its distance at aphelion. Mercury's surface appears heavily cratered and is similar in appearance to the Moon's, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Having almost no atmosphere to retain heat, it has surface temperatures that vary diurnally more than on any other planet in the Solar System, ranging from 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F) at night to 700 K (427 °C; 800 °F) during the day across the equatorial regions. The polar regions are constantly below 180 K (−93 °C; −136 °F). The planet has no known natural satellites.

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Mercury Atmosphere

Size and Distance :

With a radius of 1,516 miles (2,440 kilometers), Mercury is a little more than 1/3 the width of Earth. If Earth were the size of a nickel, Mercury would be about as big as a blueberry.

From an average distance of 36 million miles (58 million kilometers), Mercury is 0.4 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes sunlight 3.2 minutes to travel from the Sun to Mercury.

Orbit and Rotation :

Mercury's highly eccentric, egg-shaped orbit takes the planet as close as 29 million miles (47 million kilometers) and as far as 43 million miles (70 million kilometers) from the Sun. It speeds around the Sun every 88 days, traveling through space at nearly 29 miles (47 kilometers) per second, faster than any other planet.

Mercury spins slowly on its axis and completes one rotation every 59 Earth days. But when Mercury is moving fastest in its elliptical orbit around the Sun (and it is closest to the Sun), each rotation is not accompanied by a sunrise and sunset like it is on most other planets. The morning Sun appears to rise briefly, set and rise again from some parts of the planet's surface. The same thing happens in reverse at sunset for other parts of the surface. One Mercury solar day (one full day-night cycle) equals 176 Earth days—just over two years on Mercury.

Mercury's axis of rotation is tilted just 2 degrees with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun. That means it spins nearly perfectly upright and so does not experience seasons like many other planets do.

Internal structure :

Mercury's internal structure and magnetic field

Mercury appears to have a solid silicate crust and mantle overlying a solid, iron sulfide outer core layer, a deeper liquid core layer, and a solid inner core. 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 kilometres (1,516.0 mi). Mercury is also smaller—albeit more massive—than the largest natural satellites in the Solar System, Ganymede and Titan. 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 of gravitational compression were to be factored out from both planets, the materials of which Mercury is made would be denser than those of Earth, 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. Although Earth's high density results appreciably from gravitational compression, particularly at the core, Mercury is much smaller and its inner regions are not as 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 55% of its volume; for Earth this proportion is 17%. Research published in 2007 suggests that Mercury has a molten core. Surrounding the core is a 500–700 km (310–430 mi) mantle consisting of silicates. Based on data from the Mariner 10 mission and Earth-based observation, Mercury's crust is estimated to be 35 km (22 mi) 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 thought 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 thousand 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 the Moon.

Atmosphere :

The surface temperature of Mercury ranges from 100 to 700 K (−173 to 427 °C; −280 to 800 °F) at the most extreme places: 0°N, 0°W, or 180°W. It never rises above 180 K at the poles, due to the absence of an atmosphere and a steep temperature gradient between the equator and the poles. The subsolar point reaches about 700 K during perihelion (0°W or 180°W), but only 550 K at aphelion (90° or 270°W). On the dark side of the planet, temperatures average 110 K. The intensity of sunlight on Mercury's surface ranges between 4.59 and 10.61 times the solar constant (1,370 W·m−2).

Although the daylight temperature at the surface of Mercury is generally extremely high, observations strongly suggest that ice (frozen water) exists on Mercury. The floors of deep craters at the poles are never exposed to direct sunlight, and temperatures there remain below 102 K; far lower than the global average. Water ice strongly reflects radar, and observations by the 70-meter Goldstone Solar System Radar and the VLA in the early 1990s revealed that there are patches of high radar reflection near the poles. Although ice was not the only possible cause of these reflective regions, astronomers think it was the most likely.

Facts about Mercury :

  • Mercury does not have any moons or rings.

  • Mercury is the smallest planet.

  • Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun.

  • Your weight on Mercury would be 38% of your weight on Earth.

  • A solar day on the surface of Mercury lasts 176 Earth days.

  • A year on Mercury takes 88 Earth days.

  • It’s not known who discovered Mercury.

  • A year on Mercury is just 88 days long.

Some more facts :

  • One solar day (the time from noon tonoon on the planet’s surface) on Mercury lasts the equivalent of 176 Earth dayswhile the sidereal day (the time for 1 rotation in relation to a fixed point) lasts59 Earth days. Mercury is nearly tidally locked to the Sun and over time this has slowed the rotation of the planet to almost match its orbit around the Sun. Mercury also has the highest orbital eccentricity of all the planets with its distance from the Sun ranging from 46 to 70 million km.

  • Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System.
    One of five planets visible with the naked eye a, Mercury is just 4,879 Kilometres across its equator, compared with 12,742 Kilometres for the Earth.

  • Mercury is the second densest planet.
    Even though the planet is small, Mercury is very dense. Each cubic centimetre has a density of 5.4 grams, with only the Earth having a higher density. This is largely due to Mercury being composed mainly of heavy metals and rock.

  • Mercury has wrinkles.
    As the iron core of the planet cooled and contracted, the surface of the planet became wrinkled. Scientist have named these wrinkles, Lobate Scarps. These Scarps can be up to a mile high and hundreds of miles long.

  • Mercury has a molten core.
    In recent years scientists from NASA have come to believe the solid iron core of Mercury could in fact be molten. Normally the core of smaller planets cools rapidly, but after extensive research, the results were not in line with those expected from a solid core. Scientists now believe the core to contain a lighter element such as sulphur, which would lower the melting temperature of the core material. It is estimated Mercury’s core makes up 42% of its volume, while the Earth’s core makes up 17%.

  • Mercury is only the second hottest planet.
    Despite being further from the Sun, Venus experiences higher temperatures. The surface of Mercury which faces the Sun sees temperatures of up to 427°C, whilst on the alternate side this can be as low as -173°C. This is due to the planet having no atmosphere to help regulate the temperature.

  • Mercury is the most cratered planet in the Solar System.
    Unlike many other planets which “self-heal” through natural geological processes, the surface of Mercury is covered in craters. These are caused by numerous encounters with asteroids and comets. Most Mercurian craters are named after famous writers and artists. Any crater larger than 250 kilometres in diameter is referred to as a Basin. The Caloris Basin is the largest impact crater on Mercury covering approximately 1,550 km in diameter and was discovered in 1974 by the Mariner 10 probe.

  • Only two spacecraft have ever visited Mercury.
    Owing to its proximity to the Sun, Mercury is a difficult planet to visit. During 1974 and 1975 Mariner 10 flew by Mercury three times, during this time they mapped just under half of the planet’s surface. On August 3rd 2004, the Messenger probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, this was the first spacecraft to visit since the mid 1970’s.

  • Mercury is named for the Roman messenger to the gods.
    The exact date of Mercury’s discovery is unknown as it pre-dates its first historical mention, one of the first mentions being by the Sumerians around in 3,000 BC.

  • Mercury has an atmosphere (sort of).
    Mercury has just 38% the gravity of Earth, this is too little to hold on to what atmosphere it has which is blown away by solar winds. However while gases escape into space they are constantly being replenished at the same time by the same solar winds, radioactive decay and dust caused by micrometeorites.

Source: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)

3 D Model of Mercury

Source Credits : NASA, Wikipedia and Space Facts.