mythology Mercury is messenger of the gods, and son of the god
Jupiter. Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. Its distance from
the sun is approximately 58 million km (about 36 million miles); its
diameter is 4875 km (3030 miles); its volume and mass are about :
that of the earth; and its density is approximately equal to that of
the earth. Mercury revolves about the sun in a period of 88 days.
Radar observations of the planet show that its period of rotation is
58.7 days, or two-thirds of its period of revolution. The planet,
therefore, rotates one and a half times during each revolution.
Because its surface consists of rough, porous, dark-colored rock,
Mercury is a poor reflector of sunlight. Mercury is the second
smallest planet in the solar system and it has no known moons.
studies indicate that only an extremely thin atmosphere, containing
sodium and potassium. Collisions with other protoplanets early in the
history of the solar system may have stripped away lighter materials,
thereby accounting for Mercury’s great density. The force of
gravity on the planet’s surface is about one-third of that on
The Mariner 10
spacecraft passed Mercury twice in 1974 and once in 1975. It sent
back pictures of a moonlike, crater-pocked surface and reported
temperatures to be about 430. C (about 810. F) on the sunlit side and
about -180. C (about -290. F) on the dark side. It s atmosphere
consists of sodium, helium, hydrogen, and oxygen. Mariner 10 also
detected a magnetic field 1 percent that of the earth. Unlike that of
the earth’s moon, the surface of Mercury is criss-crossed by long
escarpments, dating perhaps from the period of contraction the planet
experienced as it cooled some time early in its history. In 1991
powerful radio telescopes on earth revealed unmistakable signals of
vast sheets of ice in Mercury’s polar regions, areas that had not
been covered by Mariner 10.
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