Mercury is the smallest and innermost planet in the Solar System. Its orbital period around the Sun of 88 days is the shortest of all the planets in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman deity Mercury, the messenger to the gods.
Like Venus, Mercury orbits the Sun within Earth's orbit as an inferior planet, so it can only be seen visually in the morning or the evening sky, and never exceeds 28° away from the Sun. Also, like Venus and the Moon, the planet displays the complete range of phases as it moves around its orbit relative to Earth. Seen from Earth, this cycle of phases reoccurs approximately every 116 days, the so-called synodic period. Although Mercury can appear as a bright star-like object when viewed from Earth, its proximity to the Sun often makes it more difficult to see than Venus.
Mercury is gravitationally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance, and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun.As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two years.
Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets (about 1⁄30 degree), and its orbital eccentricity is the largest of all known planets in the Solar System. At aphelion, Mercury is about 1.5 times as far from the Sun as it is at perihelion. Mercury's surface appears heavily cratered and is similar in appearance to the Moon's, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Having almost no atmosphere to retain heat, it has surface temperatures that vary diurnally more than on any other planet in the Solar System, ranging from 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F) at night to 700 K (427 °C; 800 °F) during the day across the equatorial regions. The polar regions are constantly below 180 K (−93 °C; −136 °F). The planet has no known natural satellites.
Two spacecraft have visited Mercury: Mariner 10 flew by in 1974 and 1975; and MESSENGER, launched in 2004, orbited Mercury over 4,000 times in four years before exhausting its fuel and crashing into the planet's surface on April 30, 2015.
Mercury is one of four terrestrial planets in the Solar System, and is a rocky body like Earth. It is the smallest planet in the Solar System, with an equatorial radius of 2,439.7 kilometres (1,516.0 mi). Mercury is also smaller—albeit more massive—than the largest natural satellites in the Solar System, Ganymede and Titan. Mercury consists of approximately 70% metallic and 30% silicate material.Mercury's density is the second highest in the Solar System at 5.427 g/cm3, only slightly less than Earth's density of 5.515 g/cm3.If the effect of gravitational compression were to be factored out from both planets, the materials of which Mercury is made would be denser than those of Earth, with an uncompressed density of 5.3 g/cm3 versus Earth's 4.4 g/cm3.
Mercury's density can be used to infer details of its inner structure. Although Earth's high density results appreciably from gravitational compression, particularly at the core, Mercury is much smaller and its inner regions are not as compressed. Therefore, for it to have such a high density, its core must be large and rich in iron.
Geologists estimate that Mercury's core occupies about 55% of its volume; for Earth this proportion is 17%. Research published in 2007 suggests that Mercury has a molten core. Surrounding the core is a 500–700 km mantle consisting of silicates.Based on data from the Mariner 10 mission and Earth-based observation, Mercury's crust is estimated to be 35 km thick. One distinctive feature of Mercury's surface is the presence of numerous narrow ridges, extending up to several hundred kilometers in length. It is thought that these were formed as Mercury's core and mantle cooled and contracted at a time when the crust had already solidified
Mercury's surface is similar in appearance to that of the Moon, showing extensive mare-like plains and heavy cratering, indicating that it has been geologically inactiv for billions of years. Because knowledge of Mercury's geology had been based only on the 1975 Mariner 10 flyby and terrestrial observations, it is the least understood of the terrestrial planets.As data from MESSENGER orbiter are processed, this knowledge will increase. For example, an unusual crater with radiating troughs has been discovered that scientists called "the spider".It was later named Apollodorus.
Albedo features are areas of markedly different reflectivity, as seen by telescopic observation. Mercury has dorsa (also called "wrinkle-ridges"), Moon-like highlands, montes (mountains), planitiae (plains), rupes (escarpments), and valles (valleys).
ames for features on Mercury come from a variety of sources. Names coming from people are limited to the deceased. Craters are named for artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field. Ridges, or dorsa, are named for scientists who have contributed to the study of Mercury. Depressions or fossae are named for works of architecture. Montes are named for the word "hot" in a variety of languages. Plains or planitiae are named for Mercury in various languages. Escarpments or rupēs are named for ships of scientific expeditions. Valleys or valles are named for radio telescope facilities
Mercury was heavily bombarded by comets and asteroids during and shortly following its formation 4.6 billion years ago, as well as during a possibly separate subsequent episode called the Late Heavy Bombardment that ended 3.8 billion years ago.During this period of intense crater formation, Mercury received impacts over its entire surface,facilitated by the lack of any atmosphere to slow impactors down.During this time Mercury was volcanically active; basins such as the Caloris Basin were filled by magma, producing smooth plains similar to the maria found on the Moon.
Mercury has the most eccentric orbit of all the planets; its eccentricity is 0.21 with its distance from the Sun ranging from 46,000,000 to 70,000,000 km
(29,000,000 to 43,000,000 mi).It takes 87.969 Earth days to complete an orbit. The diagram on the right illustrates the effects of the eccentricity,
showing Mercury's orbit overlaid with a circular orbit having the same semi-major axis. Mercury's higher velocity when it is near perihelion is clear
from the greater distance it covers in each 5-day interval. In the diagram the varying distance of Mercury to the Sun is represented by the size of the
planet, which is inversely proportional to Mercury's distance from the Sun. This varying distance to the Sun leads to Mercury's surface being flexed by
tidal bulges raised by the Sun that are about 17 times stronger than the Moon's on Earth.Combined with a 3:2 spin–orbit resonance of the planet's rota-
tion around its axis, it also results in complex variations of the surface temperature.The resonance makes a single solar day on Mercury last exactly
two Mercury years, or about 176 Earth days.
Mercury's orbit is inclined by 7 degrees to the plane of Earth's orbit (the ecliptic), as shown in the diagram on the right. As a result, transits
of Mercury across the face of the Sun can only occur when the planet is crossing the plane of the ecliptic at the time it lies between Earth and the Sun.
This occurs about every seven years on average.
Mercury's axial tilt is almost zero, with the best measured value as low as 0.027 degrees. This is significantly smaller than that of Jupiter, which has the second smallest axial tilt of all planets at 3.1 degrees. This means that to an observer at Mercury's poles, the center of the Sun never rises more than 2.1 arcminutes above the horizon.
At certain points on Mercury's surface, an observer would be able to see the Sun rise about halfway, then reverse and set before rising again, all within the same Mercurian day. This is because approximately four Earth days before perihelion, Mercury's angular orbital velocity equals its angular rotational velocity so that the Sun's apparent motion ceases; closer to perihelion, Mercury's angular orbital velocity then exceeds the angular rotational velocity. Thus, to a hypothetical observer on Mercury, the Sun appears to move in a retrograde direction. Four Earth days after perihelion, the Sun's normal apparent motion resumes. A similar effect would have occurred if Mercury had been in synchronous rotation: the alternating gain and loss of rotation over revolution would have caused a libration of 23.65° in longitude.
For the same reason,there are two points on Mercury's equator,180 degrees apart in longitude,at either of which,around perihelion in alternate Mercurian years (once a Mercurian day), the Sun passes overhead, then reverses its apparent motion and passes overhead again, then reverses a second time and passes overhead a third time, taking a total of about 16 Earth-days for this entire process. In the other alternate Mercurian years, the same thing happens at the other of these two points. The amplitude of the retrograde motion is small, so the overall effect is that, for two or three weeks, the Sun is almost stationary overhead, and is at its most brilliant because Mercury is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun. This prolonged exposure to the Sun at its brightest makes these two points the hottest places on Mercury. Conversely, there are two other points on the equator, 90 degrees of longitude apart from the first ones, where the Sun passes overhead only when the planet is at aphelion in alternate years, when the apparent motion of the Sun in Mercury's sky is relatively rapid. These points, which are the ones on the equator where the apparent retrograde motion of the Sun happens when it is crossing the horizon as described in the preceding paragraph, receive much less solar heat than the first ones described above.
Mercury attains inferior conjunction (nearest approach to Earth) every 116 Earth days on average,but this interval can range from 105 days to 129 days due to the planet's eccentric orbit. Mercury can come as near as 82.2 gigametres (0.549 astronomical units; 51.1 million miles) to Earth, and that is slowly declining: The next approach to within 82.1 Gm (51.0 million miles) is in 2679, and to within 82.0 Gm (51.0 million miles) in 4487, but it will not be closer to Earth than 80 Gm (50 million miles) until 28,622.Its period of retrograde motion as seen from Earth can vary from 8 to 15 days on either side of inferior conjunction. This large range arises from the planet's high orbital eccentricity
Mercury's apparent magnitude varies between −2.6 (brighter than the brightest star Sirius) and about +5.7 (approximating the theoretical limit of naked-eye visibility). The extremes occur when Mercury is close to the Sun in the sky.Observation of Mercury is complicated by its proximity to the Sun, as it is lost in the Sun's glare for much of the time. Mercury can be observed for only a brief period during either morning or evening twilight.
Mercury can, like several other planets and the brightest stars, be seen during a total solar eclipse.
Like the Moon and Venus, Mercury exhibits phases as seen from Earth. It is "new" at inferior conjunction and "full" at superior conjunction. The planet is rendered invisible from Earth on both of these occasions because of its being obscured by the Sun,except its new phase during a transit.
Mercury is technically brightest as seen from Earth when it is at a full phase. Although Mercury is farthest from Earth when it is full, the greater illuminated area that is visible and the opposition brightness surge more than compensates for the distance.The opposite is true for Venus, which appears brightest when it is a crescent, because it is much closer to Earth than when gibbous
Nonetheless, the brightest (full phase) appearance of Mercury is an essentially impossible time for practical observation, because of the extreme proximity of the Sun. Mercury is best observed at the first and last quarter, although they are phases of lesser brightness. The first and last quarter phases occur at greatest elongation east and west of the Sun, respectively. At both of these times Mercury's separation from the Sun ranges anywhere from 17.9° at perihelion to 27.8° at aphelion.At greatest western elongation, Mercury rises at its earliest before sunrise, and at greatest eastern elongation, it sets at its latest after sunset.
Mercury can be easily seen from the tropics and subtropics more than from higher latitudes. Viewed from low latitudes and at the right times of year, the ecliptic intersects the horizon at a steep angle. Mercury is 10° above the horizon when the planet appears directly above the Sun (i.e. its orbit appears vertical) and is at maximum elongation from the Sun (28°) and also when the Sun is 18° below the horizon, so the sky is just completely dark.This angle is the maximum altitude at which Mercury is visible in a completely dark sky.
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