Scientists Discover Mercury Has Earthquakes Just Like Earth

Scientists Discover Mercury Has Earthquakes Just Like Earth

A recent study showed Earth and Mercury might share a peculiar similarity. Mercury has earthquakes, just like Earth. These are the only two planets in our solar system that are still tectonically active.

NASA had sent the Mariner 10 out into space a few decades ago. The probe flew by Mercury during its voyage. It discovered some cliff-like formations that go by the name of fault scarps. They are like large stone steps.

Then, in 2011, they launched the MESSENGER Spacecraft. It was the first ship to orbit the planet’s surface. The ship discovered that the scarps were about 600 miles long, and about 2 miles high. But as MESSENGER moved in to take a closer look, in the past year and a half, it noticed the planet’s surface looked different. The scarps were not as long as they had been, and they were much higher.

Scientists published their analysis in Nature Geoscience. Their findings suggest that the landforms not older than 50 million years. This is relatively young. This would mean the scarps are about the same age as the Himalayas, the youngest mountain range on Earth. For the sake of comparison, both are younger than the Alps, for example, which emerged about 65 million years ago.

The researchers argued that the age of the scarps would indicate that Mercury has earthquakes. Thomas Watters, who is a planetary scientist working for the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies agrees with this finding. He explained that the most probable reason why Mercury has earthquakes is because the planet is a process of cooling. As its core cools, Mercury continues to shrink.

The cliffs are the result of the planet’s surface breaking, as the center of it contracts. This causes the surface land to shoot up, thus creating the characteristic cliff-like formations.

The same thing is happening on our Moon as well. Some studies suggest the Moon has earthquakes that measure even 5 point on the Richter scale. Watters believes Mercury has earthquakes just as strong, or perhaps even stronger. This would explain the massive size of some the cliffs.

Mercury Has Earthquakes, But That’s Not What Baffles Scientists

What scientists find so intriguing about this discovery is not the fact that Mercury and Earth are the only two planets that still experience seismic activity. What they don’t understand is how the planet continues to shrink and retain heat at the same time. Logic would dictate that by now Mercury would have started to cool down.

According to Watters, this new data completely changes the way in which scientists understood the way in which planets form. This makes the fact that Mercury has earthquakes quite significant. Some studies even linked seismic activity to creating Earth-like conditions on a planet.

For now, this is not the case with Mercury. For one, the planet has to no atmosphere. For this reason, it’s surface temperature varies wildly throughout a Mercurial day, from -280 degrees Fahrenheit, (-173 degrees Celsius) during the night, to 800 degrees Fahrenheit (440 degrees Celsius) during the day. The poles are constantly freezing temperatures. And no atmosphere means the air on the planet would not be breathable for any known lifeform.

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