MESSENGER spacraft MESSENGER spacecraft Why Mercury? The Mission Education News Center Mission Operations Science Operations Who We Are Frequently Asked Questions MESSENGER Webcam Related Links Contacts Home
MESSENGER BannerThe NASA LogoThe Carnegie Institution of Washington LogoThe John Hopkins University Logo
bannerleft side of the Education and Public Outreach BannerRight side of the Education and Public Outreach BannerRight side of the Education and Public Outreach Banner

Atmosphere

A planet’s ability to keep an atmosphere depends largely on its mass and surface temperature, as well as on the composition of the atmosphere itself. Large planets with strong gravitational fields, such as Earth, are more likely to retain their atmosphere. Since Mercury is a small planet compared to Earth it was once thought that any gases on Mercury would have escaped into space long ago. Yet the onboard instruments of Mariner 10 showed that Mercury does have a trace atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure is quite small - about one trillion times less than that at sea level on Earth. Elements known to be present in the Mercurian atmosphere include helium, sodium, and oxygen.

Learn about the Temperature of Mercury

The Elusive Planet banner
 
Odd but True... heading
Atmospheric size and composition determine how the sky will appear to someone on a planet's surface. For instance, the sky on Earth appears blue while the sky on Mars would appear to be a pinkish-red. Due to the absence of a substantial atmosphere on Mercury, the sky would appear black even during daytime - except for the Sun, which would appear two to three times larger than we see on the Earth. With no atmosphere, a visitor to Mercury would hear no sounds.