Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Characterizing the surface composition of Mercury



The MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, has been revealing new information about the surface chemistry and geological history of the innermost planet in the solar system. Weider et al. recently analyzed 205 measurements of the surface composition from MESSENGER's X-ray spectrometer, focusing on the large expanse of smooth volcanic plains at high northern latitudes and surrounding areas that are higher in crater density and therefore older than the northern plains. In general, the measurements show that Mercury's surface composition is very different from that of other planets in the solar system. It is dominated by minerals high in magnesium and enriched in sulfur. This composition is similar to that expected from partial melts of enstatite chondrites, a rare type of meteorite that formed at high temperatures in highly reducing (low oxygen) conditions in the inner solar system.