Mercury

Compiled by Donnette E Davis www.staidenshomeschool.com

Our Solar System

Mercury

'Mercury Facts'

Mercury orbits around the Sun faster than any other planet. Mercury's surface temperature can vary from -180°C (-300°F) to 430°C (800°F). On Earth, the hottest temperature was recorded at 58°C (136°F). There may be ice on the top and bottom of Mercury.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. It is a terrestrial planet. That means a planet made from rock like Earth. It does not have a gas atmosphere, so there is no weather. For a long time, only one spacecraft, Mariner 10, had visited Mercury. In January 2008, the MESSENGER spacecraft went by Mercury. It will go by Mercury two more times before starting to go around the planet in 2011.

How Big Is Mercury?
Mercury is 4879 km across. Mercury's diameter is just less than half the diameter of the Earth. It is the smallest planet in the Solar System. Only dwarf planets like Pluto are smaller. Mercury's small size and its closeness to the Sun sometimes make it difficult to see without a telescope or binoculars. The best time to spot Mercury in the sky is just after the sun goes down at night or shortly before it rises in the morning.

What is Mercury's surface like?
Mercury has craters like those on the Earth's moon. The largest crater on Mercury is the Caloris Basin. It is about 1300 km wide. It was created by a huge asteroid hitting Mercury. The asteroid was probably 100 km wide, but it hit Mercury's surface so hard that it made a much bigger hole. St Aiden’s Homeschool © 2009 ~ All Rights Reserved Donnette E Davis 26

Our Solar System The surface also has big cliffs called scarps. They were made long ago when Mercury cooled down. It shrank, causing the surface to get wrinkled in some places. This wrinkling created the scarps.

There may also be ice on the top and bottom of Mercury. Like the Earth, these areas (called poles) don't get much warmth from the Sun. Any ice there won't melt. It is very hot during the day (over 400°C) because Mercury is so close to the Sun. At night it is very cold because Mercury loses almost all its heat since there is almost no atmosphere to keep the warmth there. The temperature can fall to almost -175°C.

How long is a day on this planet?
Mercury rotates (spins around) much more slowly than the Earth. It takes Mercury 58 days to spin once. Because Mercury orbits the sun very quickly, a day on Mercury lasts longer than 58 days. If you were standing on Mercury, at the equator and timed how long it took the sun to go from directly overhead to sunset to sunrise and then rise directly overhead again, it would take 176 Earth days. These long days and nights allow for the temperatures to rise as high, and fall as low, as they do.

How long is a year on Mercury?
Mercury has the shortest year in the Solar System. It is about 88 Earth days long. It used to be believed that the same side of Mercury always faced the Sun. In order for this to be true, Mercury would have to take the same amount of time to rotate (spin around) as it does to circle the sun. Through careful observation we now know that Mercury's rotation is somewhat faster than its orbit. Because of the way the orbit and rotation work together, on Mercury, a day is actually almost twice as long as a year.

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Our Solar System

What is Mercury made of?
The centre of Mercury is made of iron in partly-molten (liquid) form. We know that it is iron at the centre because the planet generates a magnetic field. It contains more iron for its size than any other planet in the Solar System. The rest of Mercury, its thick crust, is made of a special type of rock called silicate rocks. There are craters near the poles that are constantly in shadow. Some of these craters contain ice. There is a huge crater on Mercury called Caloris Basin. It was formed when a comet hit the planet and lava or molten rock filled the impact crater. The round wall of this crater is over 2km tall.

How much would Mercury's gravity pull on me?
If you were on Mercury, it would pull you down less than half (38%) as much as the Earth. An item that weighs 100 Newton on Earth, would only weigh 38 Newton on Mercury.

Who is this planet named after?
In Roman mythology, Mercury was the messenger of the gods. He wore a hat and sandals with wings on them, allowing him to travel around the world very quickly. The planet Mercury was named after him because it moves around the Sun faster than any other planet in the Solar System. It moves nearly 48 km every second! A planet is a large space object which revolves around a star. It also reflects that star's light. Eight planets have been discovered in our solar system. Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are the planets closest to the Sun. They are called the inner planets. The inner planets are made up mostly of rock. The outer planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are large balls of gases with rings around them. All eight planets travel around the Sun in a different orbit. In its orbit, there are not many other objects like the planet. Dwarf planets are objects that are similar to planets except that they orbit the Sun in areas where there are many similar objects.

The Inner Planets Mercury Venus Earth Mars

The Outer Planets Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune

Dwarf Planets Pluto Ceres Eris Haumea Makemake

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Our Solar System

Mercury is the smallest planet in our solar system. Mercury is about the same size as our Moon. It is very close to the Sun. Mercury travels around the Sun faster than any other planet. That is how it got its name. It was named after Mercury, the swift messenger of the gods in ancient Roman mythology. Mercury can only be seen from Earth just before sunrise or just after sunset, but not in the middle of the night. That is because Mercury always appears near the Sun when viewed from Earth. Mercury has a very thin atmosphere. Humans would not be able to live there. The surface of Mercury has holes in it where objects such as meteorites and asteroids crashed into it.

• The temperature on Mercury gets so hot it could melt a tin pan. • Mercury can be seen by people on earth just before sunrise or just after sunset on some clear nights.

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Our Solar System

Fact Sheet

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Our Solar System

What is Mercury?

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How big is Mercury?

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What is Mercury's surface like?

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Our Solar System

How long is a day on this planet?

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How long is a year on Mercury?

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What is Mercury made of?

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How much would Mercury's gravity pull on me?

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Who is this planet named after?
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