Beacon Transcript – Recent studies have spotted a giant great valley on the surface of Mercury, valley whose composition has given rise to new questions about the planet.
The recent find was the joint effort of a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Maryland. The Moscow State University and the German institute of Planetary Research were also involved in the study.
Their research and findings were first published online on November 16 in the Geophysical research Letters journal. The study’s name is “Fault-bound Valley Associated with the Rembrandt Basin on Mercury.”
As the team found the expansive, great valley located in the Rembrandt Basin area, it started raising questions as to the planet’s frozen status.
The great valley research was based on stereo images gathered from the MESSENGER or Mercury Surface, Space, Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging NASA mission spacecraft.
Its location was determined to overlap the Mercury Rembrandt Basin and to be situated in the southern hemisphere of the planet.
The Rembrandt Basin is a relatively recent crater formation which is believed to have formed after an asteroid or other similar space body hit the surface of Mercury.
Mercury has a very different lithosphere than that encountered here on Earth whose lithosphere has both a crust and upper mantle.
The Mercury one has a solid, single lithosphere layer which spans over the entire planet. It is believed that the planet both cooled and shrank in its early history, some 3 to 4 billion years ago.
Following this process, the planet’s lithosphere is believed to have folded and buckled, which in turn led to the formation of the valley.
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Laurent Montesi, no such giant great valley could be found on our planet as there is no equivalent geological formation.
The giant great valley is believed to be about 600 miles long and 250 miles wide and could have steep sides that deep over 2 miles below the surrounding environment.
Montesi pointed out the fact that Mercury most probably passed through a very different type of deformation that anything our Earth could have experienced.
This would also be the very first evidence of a planet’s large-scale buckling process. The formation of the valley is believed to carry important information about Mercury’s geological history.
According to the current research results, Mercury’s interior is believed to have cooled rapidly, which led to the formation of a thick crust.
As such, the floor terrain of the newly discovered great valley could be one giant piece of the planet’s lithosphere that may have dropped in between the two surrounding faults.
If Mercury would have followed the usual planetary patterns of a steady cool down, this would have been the most probable explanation.
But according to the aforementioned Montesi, this does not seem to be the case. Team observations point towards a recent volcanic activity on the planet.
If these observations turn out to be true, it could come to mean that Mercury has a warm core and is not the cold planet everyone took it to be.
Image Source: Wikimedia