Eight Cool Facts About The Planet Mercury

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is only slightly larger than Earth’s moon and is pockmarked with craters. The planet is visible to the unaided eye and as such as has long been known to humans. The planet was first observed through the newly invented telescope in 1631 by astronomers¬†Galileo Galilei¬†and Thomas Harriot, according to¬†NASA Science(opens in new tab).

According to Universe Today(opens in new tab), the Sumerians mentioned the planet as early as the 2nd millennium BC (a period spanning 2000 BC to 1001 BC), and the Babylonians called it the planet Nabu. We know it by the name given by the Romans, after their swift-footed messenger god Mercury.

Even though Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, its surface can still be extremely cold, thanks to its lack of a heat-trapping atmosphere. The temperature during the day can reach a scorching 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius), but at night, temperatures can plummet as low as minus 290 F (minus 180 C), according to NASA(opens in new tab). That fluctuation equals a temperature swing of about 1,100 F (600 C), the largest of any planet in the solar system.

Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system. The dinky planet is approximately 3,030 miles (4,876 kilometers) in diameter, making it about as wide as the continental United States and only slightly bigger than Earth’s moon.

Saturn’s moon Titan and¬†Jupiter’s moon¬†Ganymede¬†are both larger than Mercury.¬†Pluto was long considered to be the smallest planet in the solar system, but after it was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006, the award of the smallest planet has been bestowed upon Mercury.

Mercury speeds around the sun every 88 Earth days, hurtling along at nearly 29 miles (47 kilometers) per second ‚ÄĒ faster than any other planet in the solar system, according to NASA. Mercury’s orbit is not only very fast but also highly elliptical. The planet gets as close as 29 million miles (47 million km) to the sun and as far as 42 million miles (70 million km) from the sun.

In 2012, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft¬†discovered water ice¬†inside some of Mercury’s craters. In 2017, it was confirmed that Mercury has¬†much more ice¬†strewn across its north polar region than previously thought. The existence of ice had first been suggested in the 1990s when Earth-based telescopes detected highly reflective spots in the polar regions.

Mercury has the thinnest atmosphere of any planet in the solar system. The atmosphere is so thin that scientists have another name for it ‚ÄĒ an exosphere. Mercury’s exosphere is composed mostly of oxygen, sodium, hydrogen, helium and potassium, according to NASA.

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