It also appears that lava tubes, hollows carved out by lava flows millions of years ago, are dispersed around Mercury. With enough effort, these may be converted into secure subterranean dwellings, shielded from the radiation, high temperatures, and harsh vacuum on the surface. The cost of building shelters like this is estimated to be less than $100,000 per unit.
For more information on living in caves, see our article "The Beauty of Caves."
"While all of the lava flows we observe are quite old—Mercury stopped being volcanically active 3.5 billion years ago—you will see that the most recent signs of volcanic activity happened mainly in regions where there are impact craters, places where the shell is thin or fractured," Byrne explains. "So yes, there is still volcanic activity on Mercury, but it's not like Earth's where new islands are forming or anything like that."
In fact, much of what we know about Mercury's past behavior comes from studies of its effects in the present. The planet was once warmer than it is now, and as it cooled down, its ice caps formed which slowly collapsed under their own weight until they completely disappeared about 700 million years ago. At that point, more radiation from the sun struck the surface, causing it to darken even further. This ongoing flux of radiation has caused major changes to Mercury's atmosphere over time, so much so that one day perhaps it will be possible to fly there.
As mentioned, all of this activity happens beneath the crust, which is only about 3500 feet thick. But the core of the planet is much hotter than the crust, so some scientists believe that it may be able to support thermal expansion, which would cause the entire planet to rise up into space.
Mercury is released into the atmosphere as a result of rock erosion, volcano eruptions, and soil degradation. The primary and most troublesome source of mercury intake is from power stations that use fossil fuels, especially coal. Other sources include industrial processes, municipal waste dumps, and agricultural practices.
Yes. Once in the environment, mercury can remain for a long time. It can also change hands multiple times between different species before it gets removed from the environment. Humans are at risk for eating fish that have high levels of mercury, or drinking water that has high levels of mercury. Animals that eat large amounts of mercury (such as tuna) may pose a threat to humans who consume them too.
If you are concerned about chemical fires in your home, please call the local fire department immediately before starting a fire.
Chemicals with mercury in them can be part of any number of products that we use every day. These products include dental fillings, thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, and even some household batteries. When they break down oxygen molecules attach to these metals inside the bulb or battery, removing one or both of them from their compound.
Natural sources of mercury include volcanic eruptions and seawater discharges. Anthropogenic (induced by humans) emissions include mercury emitted from fuels or raw materials, or from its usage in goods or industrial processes. Some of the mercury in the environment today was emitted many years ago. It is absorbed by soil and plants, and stored in their bodies for long periods of time before being re-emitted into the atmosphere or dissolved in oceansic waters.
Volcanoes are one of the major sources of natural mercury on Earth. When a volcano erupts, it blows gas and debris into the air, which includes mercury. This dust settles back to the ground where it can be re-absorbed by plants or washed away with rain. Volcanoes also emit sulfur dioxide, which reacts with oxygen in the air to form sulfate particles that can be transported long distances by wind.
Seawater contains small amounts of mercury compared to most other elements in the earth's crust. However, this mercury is not available for use by living things because it exists only as Hg(0). That is, it has no valence electrons and cannot be chemically combined with other substances. Instead, it will bond with other atoms to form a compound that does not occur in nature.
Because mercury is harmful when it enters the environment, efforts have been made to reduce its release into the atmosphere and water resources.
Given that deep craters in Mercury's polar regions might give shielding from the nearby Sun's blistering heat and radiation, a colony on Mercury could be feasible. Any colony would need to be as self-sufficient as feasible in order to be viable. This would include using solar panels to generate electricity for heating and cooling as well as for powering tools and appliances. It is also likely that such a colony would have to be located near one of these protective craters so that if things went badly wrong with the infrastructure there would be some protection from the heat and radiation.
Colonies on other planets might not need to be as self-sufficient as ones on more remote locations, but they would still require resources that would only be available at certain times or in limited quantities. For example, an extraterrestrial colony would need to be self-sufficient with respect to food, but since most planets don't have much available iron this would probably mean importing some from elsewhere. If there were mining operations on site this would reduce the need for long distance shipments which would be more energy efficient.
It is even possible that some day we might find evidence of past or current colonies on Mercury. In fact, data from the Mariner 10 spacecraft has revealed features on the planet that are probably the result of past or present human activity. One such example is a large crater that appears to have been caused by an asteroid impact.
This image of Mercury's surface depicts the eroding process on the innermost planet. Mercury lacks these agents, and its atmosphere is far too thin to shield it from cosmic collisions.... An impact with enough energy to vaporize rock would also remove the protective layer of soil over much of the globe.
As dust particles in the air strike the surface, they break up into smaller pieces that are carried away by the wind. This process will continue until only fine powder remains, which can be blown around by storms.
The picture was taken by NASA's Messenger spacecraft, which arrived at Mercury in 2011. It obtained this image when it was 1 million miles from Earth, or about 140 million kilometers.
Mercury is a very deadly and harsh planet. Extreme temperatures are most likely one of the planet's most harmful characteristics. But don't worry, we have dedicated rooms and vehicles that keep the temperatures reasonable and safe. We are susceptible to meteorites because Mercury has no atmosphere. This means that it is completely exposed to space, which makes it vulnerable to attack from outside sources.
Most meteoroids are vaporized in the atmosphere but some reach the ground. If one of these hits Earth, it can cause damage and death. Meteorites with masses less than 2.5 acres (1 hectare) have not enough mass to do significant damage on their own, but they may be able to trigger an earthquake if they hit areas with much rock and soil movement. Larger rocks can cause major damage by blocking out sunlight for months or years at a time.
The main threat from meteoroids is not from small ones but rather from large explosions over land or in open water. The energy released when two objects with masses greater than 5,000 pounds (22,700 kilograms) collide spreads out over a large area and can cause extensive damage over hundreds of miles (kilometers). The only real protection against this type of hazard is distance - away from population centers, preferably in a secure facility.
The next largest threat comes from solar radiation. Solar flares are intense bursts of light and magnetic energy that come from the sun.