Q:

What are the characteristics of the planet Mercury?

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Quick Answer

Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system, and it is only slightly larger than Earth's moon. The closest planet to the sun, Mercury takes just 88 Earth days to complete a single orbit.

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Full Answer

Mercury is a small, rocky planet with no moons or rings. Due to its proximity to the sun, surface temperatures on Mercury can reach up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Mercury does not possess a true atmosphere, but it has an exosphere made up of atoms that have been blasted from the planet's surface by solar radiation. This exosphere is too thin to retain heat, so temperatures can fall to -275 Fahrenheit at night, resulting in the largest swing in surface temperature of any planet in the solar system.

Mercury possesses a metallic core and an active magnetic field, although this field is only 1 percent as strong as Earth's magnetic field. An asteroid roughly 60 miles wide struck the planet some 4 billion years ago creating the Caloris Basin, an impact crater larger than the state of Texas. In 2012 water ice was discovered by NASA's Messenger probe. This ice is located in Mercury's craters around its north pole, a region thought to be permanently protected from the heat of the sun.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Is Mercury hot or cold?

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    The planet of Mercury is extremely hot during the day and becomes terribly cold at night. The temperature during the day on Mercury can reach as high as 800 degrees Fahrenheit, while the night temperatures can plunge to almost 300 degrees below zero.

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  • Q:

    Does Mercury have moons?

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    The planet Mercury does not have a moon. At one time, astronomers from NASA thought the planet Mercury might have a moon, but research proved that theory to be incorrect.

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  • Q:

    How far away is Mercury from Earth?

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    According to Universe Today, when Mercury is at its closest point to Earth, it is approximately 48 million miles away, and at its farthest point, Mercury is approximately 138 million miles away from Earth. This difference is due to the fact that both Mercury and the Earth orbit the sun.

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  • Q:

    Can life exist on Mercury?

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    Universe Today describes the planet Mercury as a barren, lifeless rock that cannot support life. Among other conditions necessary for the formation and sustainability of life, liquid water is necessary. While scientists have found evidence of liquid water on a few parts of Mercury, the planet remains inhospitable to life.

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