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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

MESSENGER makes compelling case for water on planet Mercury

•, By James Holloway

MESSENGER's Neutron Spectrometer detects low-energy neutrons colliding with hydrogen-rich matter in the top 40 cm (16 in) of Mercury's surface. Readings from the spectrometer point to an "excess" of hydrogen in some form at the planet's north pole.

"The neutron data indicate that Mercury's radar-bright polar deposits contain, on average, a hydrogen-rich layer more than tens of centimeters thick beneath a surface layer 10 to 20 centimeters thick that is less rich in hydrogen," writes MESSENGER scientist David Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "The buried layer has a hydrogen content consistent with nearly pure water ice."

The presence of water ice is reinforced by MESSENGER's Mercury Laser Altimeter which maps Mercury's topography by reflecting infrared lasers from the planet's surface. Since entering Mercury's orbit early in 2011, MESSENGER has bombarded the planet with over 10 million laser pulses.
 The Laser Altimeter has recorded "reflectance anomalies" concentrated on slopes facing the planet's poles, with the presence of both bright and dark deposits.

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