Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and the smallest in the solar system. It cannot support life due to extreme changes in temperatures and the lack of atmosphere. It has no protection from the sun. Here are some facts on this little planet.
- Mercury is 36 Million miles (58 Kilometres) away from the sun. This may sound a long way but it actually makes it the closest planet to the sun.
- The planet is 57 Million Miles (92 Million Kilometres) away from Earth
- Mercury was named after the Roman God of messages Mercury who was believed to be the fastest of the Greek Gods. This is due to the planets quick orbit of the sun, travelling at a speedy 30 miles (48 kilometres) per second.
- Thanks to its speed and close position to the sun a year on Mercury is 88 days. This is the length of time it takes for the planet to orbit the sun
- The planet may be orbiting at a fast speed but it is not so quick to rotate. It takes a total of 59 days to turn on its axis and change from day to night. This means a year on Mercury is actually only one and a half days in length.
- For a long time it was believed that Mercury didn’t rotate at all but always kept one side facing the sun. In 1965 it was discovered that Mercury did rotate using radar observations.
- On Mercury there is a huge difference in temperature on the side of the planet facing the sun and the side facing away. The temperature on the side of Mercury facing the sun reaches an very hot 400 degrees Celcius (750 degrees Fahrenheit) and drops to a rather chilly -200 degrees Celcius (-328 degrees Fahrenheit) on the other side.
- The atmosphere on Mercury is very thin. This is the reason for this big heat change as there is almost no atmosphere to help protect it from the sun, or retain any of the heat levels reached during the day time.
- Mercury is only a little planet in comparison to Earth with a diameter measuring 3100 miles in total (4990 Kilometres) It is the smallest planet in the solar system (quite recently it was thought to be the second smallest until Pluto was changed to a dwarf planet). It is actually only slightly bigger than Earths moon.
- The surface of Mercury is mostly deep pits and dry craters. This make it look a little bit like our moon. Some of the pits are miles deep.
- Mercury does not have any moons or rings because of the lack of atmosphere. Mercury and Venus are the only planets in the solar system without moons.
- There are no seasons on Mercury. The axis on Mercury is not tilted and there dor the Sun stays the same distance from the planet.
- Mercury orbits the Sun within the Earth’s orbit. This means we can see it from Earth in the morning and in the evening without a telescope – although this is not easy.
- It was once believed that Mercury was two separate planets. Due to the planet being visible at two separate points during the day, Ancient Greeks believed Mercury was two different planets and named them Mercury and Apollo before realising they were the same one.
- Two Aircrafts have visited Mercury from Earth to learn more about the planet.
- NASA launched the Mariner 10 in 1973, the aircraft flew past Mercury three times before the mission came to an end.
- In 2004 NASA launched MESSENGER which stayed orbiting Mercury for four years making about 4000 rotations of the planet before running out of fuel and crashing into its surface in 2015.
- Another mission will be launched in 2016 by the European Space agency and Japan and should reach Mercury in 2024. This will hopefully tell us more about the planet.
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