As the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing planets in the solar system. Compared to our comprehension of the Moon and Mars, not much is known about this planet with a hostile environment.
Mercury's crust is mostly in the form of graphite, a pure form of carbon that can convert into diamonds after being struck by asteroids. The planet is full of craters due to meteoroids and comets that struck it over the years.
But now, researchers seem to have more claims about the surface of Mercury. New research previewed this month at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference suggests that the crust of Mercury could contain 16 quadrillion tons of diamonds.
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“The pressure wave from asteroids or comets striking the surface at tens of kilometers per second could transform that graphite into diamonds,” says Kevin Cannon, a geologist at the Colorado School of Mines, who presented his latest findings at the conference.
“You could have a significant amount of diamonds near the surface.”
Do these diamonds look like what we suppose? The answer is most probably not: “They’re probably nothing like the big clear gemstones we cut and make into jewelry,” Cannon said. “A better comparison is the small cloudy diamonds used in industry as abrasives, likely in a messy mixture with graphite and other forms of carbon.”
The only response to these findings could be, "I wish Mercury weren't this hard to explore."
Why is Mercury hard to explore?
We, human beings, haven't made it to Mercury, yet. Only NASA's MESSENGER and Mariner 10 missions have made close observations of the planet and broadened our horizons about the closest orbiter of the Sun.
In addition to its extremely high gravity level, the obstacle to Mercury's exploration by humans is more about its distance from the Earth. There's no need to mention its extremely variable temperature that ranges between 801 °F and −279 °F. The conditions of Mercury are far too extreme for humans to explore it physically.
So, the eyes are on the new mission called BepiColombo by European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to Mercury. The mission is expected to investigate the planet after arriving on it in December 2025.
Following NASA's MESSENGER, which mapped the planet from 2008 to 2015, the BepiColombo mission is highly promising in terms of mineral exploration. “In theory, the upcoming BepiColombo mission could detect diamonds in surface materials,” stated Cannon. “It has instruments complementary to those on NASA’s MESSENGER mission, and they’re much better at detecting certain minerals like this.”
Who knows? Maybe these claims can give scientists a new perspective on Mercury, which may have been overlooked so far.