The innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System which orbits the sun slightly under 88 days has been the focus of many articles for Messenger’s amazing data collecting mission. Finding things that no theorist would have ever predicted. In fact, last March the mission revealed some eye-popping data that has sent many of them back to the drawing board. Mercury is different from what has been described in the textbooks.
In last week’s journal of science, strange hollows were discovered on Mercury. Could this be something like on Mars which has similar features? It has been speculated that Mars features were a consequence of evaporating carbon dioxide ice. But there is no carbon dioxide ice on Mercury, so what is it? Evidence of volcanism! The strange hollows have been observed with three flybys, and the extent of them exceeded expectations, described by the BBC as having enough lava to cover Washington DC by 26,000 km.
“Based on the way this lava apparently eroded the underlying surface, the researchers suggest it rushed out rapidly. We can’t say if it took 2.7 days or 15 years or any exact time from orbit, but it wasn’t hundreds of millions of years,” Head added.
Mercury’s northern high latitudes had largely escaped view until now. When we flew by Mercury the first time with Mariner 10, we weren’t really sure if volcanism caused these smooth plains,” Head told SPACE.com. Now we’re in orbit with Messenger, we’re up close and personal, just going around and around and really building up our picture of Mercury.”
What is strange about this observation when it comes to the old age framework, why would very massive volcanism turn on like that, last a few short years, and then stop and then remain unchanged for billions of years?
One of the reasons there is a Mercury mission is trying to solve, it’s magnetic field mystery. Back in the 1970s, scientists were surprised to find that Mercury had one because with the “dynamo theory” it should have frozen out long ago. It suggested that Mercury was younger than billions of years. Mercury’s magnetic field is unable to provide protection from the solar wind.
Science daily writes…
“Only six months into its Mercury orbit, the tiny MESSENGER spacecraft has shown scientists that Mercury doesn’t conform to theory. Its surface material composition differs in important ways from both those of the other terrestrial planets and expectations prior to the MESSENGER mission, calling into question current theories for Mercury’s formation. Its magnetic field is unlike any other in the Solar System, and there are huge expanses of volcanic plains surrounding the north polar region of the planet and cover more than 6% of Mercury’s surface…. Theorists need to go back to the drawing board on Mercury’s formation,” remarked the lead author of one of the papers, Carnegie’s Larry Nittler. “Most previous ideas about Mercury’s chemistry are inconsistent with what we have actually measured on the planet’s surface.”
While some claim planetary scientists enjoy surprises for job security reasons, and designing a spacecraft to be able to gather data is quite a feat, the old-age framework has been one of the reasons why observations are not matching up with theories. Increasing complexity for a theory is never good, it often leads to telling a story and passing it off as better than empirical data. Suggesting bursts of massive lava all over the north, then shut off for billions of years, while things are being hollowed out in a process that could still be ongoing today, is forcing the data into the framework.
While suggesting that a planet is smaller than Titan is able to keep an iron core liquid long enough so that a global magnetic field can survive. As a result of this complexity, they have to create a planet with elements that were believed not possible to exist so close to the sun, but then keep vast deposits of it intact after billions of years of solar heat and bombardment. Their story telling is not nearly as good as the data itself. The Mercury is a great mission so far and it’s making clearer rather than more complex that it is younger (thousands of years) and designed by a Creator, namely God!