While you might have seen Mercury during a total solar eclipse, I`m pretty sure that you don`t know nearly as much as you would like to about this planet. Being the closest and the smallest planet in our Solar System, Mercury has little to almost no atmosphere that might retain heat, therefore its temperature varies greatly.
Because of its position, it has always been clear that it will never be possible for Mercury to develop a strong atmospheric layer, because solar winds would blow it away as soon as it would be formed.
Mercury is also one of our closest neighbors in the Solar System and it makes sense to know our neighbors well. This is also exactly what NASA scientists had in mind when they directed Messenger spacecraft towards it. It was quite a daunting task to accomplish, because if its close proximity to the sun.
Still, about four years ago, they managed to do it and from the data the spacecraft collected, it seems that our close planets might share a few common features previously unknown.
Among these similarities, the most staggering one, is the existence of a magnetic field on Mercury. Although it is not nearly as powerful as the one Earth has, it is surely an important glimpse on how this mysterious planet came to be.
The data received also allowed researchers to map out a gravitational map for Mercury. As it was thought before, Mercury has only a thin crust above its massive metallic core and it seems that the surface of the planet gets thicker towards its equator and thins out near its poles.
Other data revealed that the Mercury, might by hiding a liquid iron core right underneath its surface. This liquid core might in fact be the key factor in the formation of the four million years old magnetic field.
Messenger manage to obtain most of its important data whilst crashing into the planet at 8,700 mph. Messenger`s crash on the surface left a crater of 16m in diameter.
Its plunging into the surface of Mercury was absolutely vital in order to obtain data about its gravitational and magnetic field because from Earth, there was no mean of detecting such fine irregularities.
If you are interested in seeing Mercury, you should know that 13 times per century this planet can be seen from Earth, while it passes in front of the Sun. This phenomenon is named transit and the next one is set to happen on May 9, 2016.
Image Source: space facts