A NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study of the innermost planet
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For Teachers

NOTE: We are working on lesson plans to help integrate these materials into the classroom, so check back often!

MESSENGER water ice data exploration heading

Despite the fact that Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun, it has long been postulated that water ice could be stable in cold, permanently shadowed regions of the north and south poles. About 20 years ago, Earth-based observations of Mercury revealed bright spots in radar data, which we call "radar-bright regions". When these data were compared with images from the Mariner 10 spacecraft, which flew by Mercury in the mid-1970’s, the radar-bright deposits were observed to be within impact craters. Yet, until the MESSENGER spacecraft began its comprehensive campaign to figure out exactly what these polar deposits might be, the question of their composition remained unanswered. Now it is your turn to mimic the scientific process, in which data from various instruments have helped to answer one of the questions guiding this mission: What are the unusual materials at Mercury’s poles?

QuickMap of Mercury’s north polar region

Do you find it hard to believe water could remain frozen on the planet closest to our Sun? In this map tool you can explore real data by turning on and off various layers, adjusting the opacity of the layers, and zooming in closer to Mercury’s surface. [See how it works in this tutorial (25MB)] [Browsers Supported]


If the QuickMap is not loading properly or you want a larger version [click HERE]

MESSENGER Data at your Fingertips

Below are several layers of data collected over time for Mercury from various sources and instruments including the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico ("radar-bright" data), Mariner 10 fly-by data, and MESSENGER orbital data. You can print the indidvidual data layers on transparency paper (NOTE: choose "fit to page" when printing!). Once printed, these transparencies can be stacked on top of one another in various arrangements to show how the story of water-ice on Mercury unfolded in small chapters over decades.


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