Posted Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, at 4:28 PM
Photo by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington via Getty Images
When Coleridge wrote "Water, water everywhere," he had no idea.
Scientists have confirmed the presence of vast stores of ice on red-hot Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. NASA's Messenger spacecraft orbiting the heat-scorched planet has detected as much as a trillion metric tons of the frozen liquid, enough to bury Washington, D.C. under two miles of ice.
How can water exist on the solar system's hottest planet, with surface temperatures that can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit? It’s been stuck "where the sun don't shine," deep in polar craters in perpetual shadow where temperatures drop to -370.
Ground-based telescopes detected the water decades ago, but Messenger confirmed its chemical fingerprint as well as possible organic compounds that most likely arrived to Mercury via comets and asteroids. And though critters would have to be awfully tenacious to exist in this extreme environment, theories that the liquid of Life is ubiquitous have just heated up considerably.