Theories of Mercury's formation have been developed to explain its unusually large metal-to-silicate ratio compared to Venus, Earth, and Mars. These theories generally fall into one of two categories; physical removal of silicates, or differences in the composition material from which Mercury formed compared with other solar system bodies. Two of the physical models invoke one or more giant impacts (left) or the vaporization of surface by a hot solar nebula to remove the planet's original crust and outer mantle. Chemical models describe the material from which Mercury formed, for example, refractory condensates or primitive precursory material (right). The abundances of potassium, thorium, and uranium on the surface of Mercury measured by the MESSENGER Gamma-Ray Spectrometer rule out the giant impact, vaporization, and refractory condensation models. Formation from primitive material, similar to some forms of chondritic meteorites, is consistent with the GRS measurements.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System's innermost planet. Visit the Why Mercury? section of this website to learn more about the key science questions that the MESSENGER mission is addressing. During the one-year primary mission, MDIS is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images in support of MESSENGER's science goals.
Date Presented: September 29, 2011, at a NASA Press Briefing
These images are from MESSENGER, a NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study of the innermost planet, Mercury. For information regarding the use of images, see the MESSENGER image use policy.