This NPR headline caught our eye: Messenger Reveals Mercury Is Not What Scientists Theorized.
Its not a planet?
No, no, it is a planet, but the headline writer is an idiot. The title should be Mercury Richer in Sulfur and Potassium Than Expected. But then, who would read it?
Here is the money quote:
For years scientists have been faced with a mystery about the planet Mercury. Its iron core is much bigger than that of most other planets. More than half of Mercury's mass comes from its core. In comparison, about 32 percent of Earth's mass comes from its core.Whaaaaaat?
Scientists theorized that was because Mercury is so close to the sun that its rocky surface simply melted away.
Or to put it another way, whaaaaaaaaat?
No one in planetary science believes Mercurys rockey surface melted away. It it melted, it would still be there, just a lot smoother. And if its rocky surface melted away, why does Mercury look so much like, well, a big rock? With a surface?
No, what the issue here seems to be is the fact that Mercury has a massive core. So big, in fact, we are inclined to ask what the heck happened to the rest of the planet. Its crust and mantle are much thinner than we would expect. There are three main theories to explain this (in order of evidentiary support):
- A giant hunk of iron rock slammed into the planet, tearing away most of its surface, and adding to the core. The surface was blasted high into space, and the intense pressure of the solar wind pushed that residue off into deep space. Eventually, the iron-rich impactor merged with Mercurys core, and the remaining lava up to recarmelized into a new crust. This is most likely.
- However, the thin surface could be the result of the planets earliest days, back when it was a jumbled mess of goo. The surface was so hot in the early days of the solar system that the surface just boiled away, again with the solar wind pushing it away. When the solar system cooled, Mercury condensed into its present shape. This is also very possible,but wait a bit before you setle on this one.
- A third theory is similar to the second theory, but that the solar wind was so powerful it simply blew away the lightest elements before they even had a chance to coalesce into early Mercury.
Okay, so here is what the actual news story was: the MESSENGER spacecraft identified large amounts of potassium and sulfur on the surface of Mercury. These are very lightweight elements, and if the second or third theory were correct, we should not see as much as we do. This does not disprove the two theories, nor does it prove the first. It merely says that the second and third theories are now less likely. And indeed, there could be a fourth explanation out there waiting to be found.
Mercury still is exactly what scientists theorize it is: a planet. And it has a surface. But we now have some evidence that contradicts a couple of less popular theories about the planets structure.
Also, you should note that NPR is held up a beacon by the Left, and is in dire need of funding so that we can get badly done stories like this.