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The Hot Planet

  • The Hot Planet

    Mercury is the planet closest to the Sun. It is also very small – about the size of Earth’s moon. It is named after the Roman messenger god because it moves very quickly.

    Why are nights on Mercury freezing cold, although it’s the planet closest to the Sun? A Unlike Earth, Mercury is not surrounded by a thick protective blanket of air called the atmosphere. This means that the heat from the Sun escapes, leaving the planet freezing at night. While the temperature during the day can be as high as 467 °C (873 °F), at night it drops to -183 °C (-297 °F). Q What is the surface of Mercury like? A If you were to land on mercury, you would find a surface very similar to that of the Moon. It has dust-covered hills, cliffs and is dotted by craters. The planet also has a thick metallic core and a sandy crust.

    Sandy surface Mercury has a surface that is full of hills and steep canyons, all of it covered with a mixture of sandy substances. The core of the planet is metallic, like all the rocky planets.

    What space probes have been launched to Mercury? A Mercury, being so close to the Sun, is very difficult to explore. Space probes are unable to withstand the heat of the planet. Only one space probe, Mariner 10, has visited Mercury so far. It photographed nearly half of the planet’s surface. A new probe, Messenger, is on its way to Mercury. It was launched on 3 August 2004 and is expected to return, after photographing the whole planet, in March 2012. Another space mission will begin in 2013.

    Mercury close-up From up close, the surface of Mercury can be seen to be pitted with huge craters. Any meteor that comes near Mercury falls on the surface and creates a crater, as there is no atmosphere to burn the meteor up.

    Looking at Mercury The Mariner 10 space probe is the only one to have got anywhere near Mercury so far. It is sending photographs of the surface of Mercury regularly now.

    Quick Q’s: 1. How long does Mercury take to orbit the Sun? Like all planets, Mercury goes around the Sun in an elliptical (oval) orbit. It takes about 88 days to complete one orbit. 2. How long is a day on Mercury? Mercury goes around the Sun very fast, but rotates very slowly on its axis. Therefore a day on Mercury is equal to 176 Earth days! 3. Why does Mercury have huge craters? As Mercury has very little atmosphere, meteors do not burn up in the air. Instead, they fall on the surface, creating huge craters. 4. What colour is the sky above Mercury? If you were to look at the sky from Mercury, even during the day, it would appear black. This is because there is no atmosphere to spread the Sun’s light. 5. Which is the largest crater on Mercury? The largest crater is the Caloris Basin. It is about 1,300 kilometres (808 miles) in diameter. It is also one of the biggest craters in the solar system.