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Creation 34(4):36–38, October 2012

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Mercury: more marks of youth

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Mercury-more-marks-of-youth

In 2011 the Messenger spacecraft began orbiting Mercury, using its suite of sensors to study Mercury’s chemistry, magnetism, atmosphere, geology and landscape. Being the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury is subject to space weathering (heating, micrometeoroid bombardment, radiation, and solar wind interaction1) of extreme intensity2 so evolutionists anticipated Mercury would be “an old burned-out cinder”.3 But the evidence reveals otherwise, calling into question Mercury’s supposed age of millions of years.

Here are just some of the evolution-contradicting findings.

Blue hollows

“… this jaw-dropping thing that nobody ever predicted” 4
blue-hollows
Enhanced-colour image by NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury is pockmarked with rashes of irregularly shaped depressions, up to several kilometres across, many having bright, bluish halos and interiors (see below). Scientists dub them ‘hollows’. They appear “fresh” and have not accumulated small impact craters, indicating that they are relatively young. Scientists think the hollows form by surface collapse where volatiles (easily vaporized substances) escape from rocks.5

The hollows lacking colour and brightness are thought to have exhausted their volatiles, becoming inactive, while the bright, coloured ones are still actively decaying away.5 “Analysis of the images and estimates of the rate at which the hollows may be growing lead to the conclusion that they are actively forming today”.6

The hollows occur on crater floors, crater central peaks and crater rim terraces. These are the locations where ‘impact melt’ ends up when craters form. The intense heat of a meteorite impact melts subsurface rock and splashes it about, forming a layer of molten rock on parts of the crater. Within this layer volatile chemicals may separate into their own distinct mineral layer, which then weathers, forming blue hollows.7,8

The presence of actively-decaying volatile deposits means the craters cannot be millions of years old, because such geological activity would have ceased eons ago, hence the perplexity of secular planetologists.

Magnetic field

In 1974–75, the Mariner 10 spacecraft detected that Mercury had a magnetic field, contradicting evolutionary expectations (if a small planet like Mercury were millions of years old, it should no longer have had one).9 Even more confounding, when Messenger flew by Mercury in 2008–09, the field seemed to have decreased in strength by a few percent. Such a rapid decline would be utterly irreconcilable with millions-of-year scenarios. Did it really decrease?—Messenger’s 2011 orbit would clear things up …

Indeed, the 2011 measurements revealed a whopping 7.8% decrease in strength since 1975.10 This decrease is astonishingly fast for something as big as a planet’s magnetic field,10 and shows that the magnetic field, and hence Mercury itself, cannot possibly be millions of years old.

Evolutionary predictions had proved wrong, but what of creationist predictions?

Decades ago physicist Dr Russ Humphreys developed a planetary magnetic fields model based on the biblical assumptions that God created the planets 6,000 years ago, and that they began as spheres of water (Genesis 1:2; 2 Peter 3:5). He further supposed that God created the hydrogen atoms of every water molecule with their nuclear spins aligned, forming a massive magnet, which thenceforth decayed. In 1984 he used this model to predict the magnetic field strengths of Uranus, Neptune and Mercury. His Uranus and Neptune predictions (radically different from evolution-based ones) were demonstrated to be astonishingly accurate when Voyager II visited these planets in 1986 and 1989 respectively.11 And Mercury? Humphreys had predicted a decrease in field strength of 1.8% by 1990, compared to the measured 1974 strength.12 That would equate to a 4–6% decrease by 2011. So it turns out Mercury’s field was decreasing slightly faster than even Dr Humphreys had predicted.10

Humphreys had also predicted that older igneous rocks (if any) on Mercury would contain remanent magnetization.12 This prediction was likewise confirmed—Mercury’s northern volcanic plains are magnetized, and in the opposite direction to today’s field. This indicates that Mercury’s magnetic field, like Earth’s, was formerly much stronger (sufficient to magnetize surface rock), and has flipped poles at least once.13

Chemical composition

“… not just hellishly hot but apparently covered in brimstone”13

Brimstone is an olden-days word for sulfur, a volatile element. According to evolutionary theories of planetary formation, easily vapourised elements (such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and sulfur) and the compounds they form (e.g. water and hydrocarbons) should be very scarce or entirely absent on Mercury, because it is too close to the Sun. There shouldn’t be sulfur there, but there is, and lots—at least 10, possibly 20 times as much, proportionally, as on far more distant Earth!15

“Mercury’s interior contains higher abundances of volatile elements than are predicted by several planetary formation models for the innermost planet” concluded the Messenger scientists.5 “Theorists need to go back to the drawing board on Mercury’s formation,” said one.6

So they did just that. And after demonstrating the inadequacy of evaporation, giant impact, and nebular condensate theories, they now hint timidly at formation from volatile-rich chondritic (stony) meteorites16 as a means to cope with the uncooperative observed facts.

crater-ice-deposits
Map showing crater ice deposits18

For evolutionists, “Most previous ideas about Mercury’s chemistry are inconsistent with what we have actually measured on the planet’s surface.”6 But remnant volatiles on a hot planet pose no problem for a 6,000 year old solar system.

Ice deposits

Scientists had long wondered if patches near Mercury’s poles that brightly reflected radar, first detected decades ago using giant radio telescopes on Earth, could be deposits of frozen water.17 When Messenger mapped Mercury’s surface the patches were found to correspond to areas of permanent year-round shadow in craters, strengthening the water-ice theory.18 Messenger’s neutron spectrometer detected hydrogen in these patches,19 strongly supporting the frozen H2O conclusion.

But even portions of crater floors in permanent shadow receive some reflected light and heat from their crater rims. How could the ice possibly last? Three factors affect water retention in a crater—how close it is to the pole, how big it is, and whether something covers the ice. On Mercury, ice deposits occur even in small craters under 10 km across, and in craters as far from the pole as latitude 67º—a quarter of the way to the equator!18

Many of Mercury’s ice deposits have thin coverings of dark material, thought to be less-volatile hydrocarbons.20 However, even with this insulation, “water ice is not stable in craters ≤10 km in diameter located more than 2º from Mercury’s pole”.18 As for further away, “Low latitude (<75º) and small (≤10 km in diameter) craters that host radar-bright deposits provide challenging thermal environments for water ice”18 (emphasis added). That is, even in year-round shadow and with an insulating layer it’s hard to explain ice enduring for millions of years on a planet where daytime temperatures can melt lead.

Conclusion

Mercury “doesn’t conform to theory” and is “not the planet described in the textbooks”.6

Good scientific theories should be able to make accurate predictions, but evolutionary expectations about Mercury were substantially inconsistent with observed data. In contrast, creationist theories, such as Dr Russ Humphreys’ aligned nuclear spin theory of planetary magnetic field creation, have generated accurate predictions about Mercury.10

Mercury is geologically active, magnetic, and riddled with volatiles. These youthful characteristics fit comfortably with the Bible’s assertion that the heavenly bodies were created on Day 4 (Genesis 1:14), just 6,000 years ago, and are difficult to reconcile with an imagined age of millions of years.

References and notes

  1. D’Incecco, P. et al., Kuiper Crater on Mercury—an opportunity to study recent surface weathering trends with Messenger, 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 19–23 March 2012, lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2012/programAbstracts, accessed 1 June 2012. Return to text.
  2. Vilas, F. et al., Search for absorption features in Mercury’s visible reflectance spectra: recent results from Messenger, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  3. Kaufman, R., Mercury “hollows” found—pits may be solar system first, nationalgeographic.com, 29 September 2011. Return to text.
  4. Messenger science team member David Blewett, quoted in Kaufman, ref. 3. Return to text.
  5. Blewett, D.T. et al., Hollows on Mercury: Messenger evidence for geologically recent volatile-related activity, Science 333(6051):1856–1859, 30 September 2011. Return to text.
  6. Mercury not like other planets, Messenger finds, Carnegie Institution for Science, carnegiescience.edu, 29 September 2011. Return to text.
  7. Vaughan, W.M. et al., Hollow-forming layers in impact craters on Mercury: massive sulphide or chloride deposits formed by impact melt differentiation? 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  8. Alternatively, lava from deep underground released by the impact may produce a ‘slag’ layer which weathers to form the hollows—see Helbert, J. et al., Spectral reflectance measurements of sulphides at the planetary emissivity laboratory—analogs for hollow-forming material on Mercury, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  9. See Spike Psarris, Mercury the tiny planet that causes big problems for evolution, Creation 26(4):36–39, 2004; creation.com/mercury. Return to text.
  10. Humphreys, R., Mercury’s magnetic field is fading fast—latest data confirm evidence for a young solar system, J. Creation 26(2):4–6, 2012. Return to text.
  11. Humphreys, R., Beyond Neptune: Voyager II supports Creation, ICR Impact #203, May 1990; icr.org/article/329. Return to text.
  12. Humphreys, R., The creation of planetary magnetic fields, Creation Research Society Quarterly 21(3):140–149, December 1984; creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/21/21_3/21_3.html. Return to text.
  13. Purucker, M.E. et al., Evidence for a crustal magnetic signature on Mercury from Messenger magnetometer observations, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  14. Choi, C.Q., Planet Mercury full of strange surprises, NASA spacecraft reveals, space.com, 29 September 2011. Return to text.
  15. Nittler, L.R. et al., The major-element composition of Mercury’s surface from Messenger x-ray spectrometry, Science 333(6051):1847–1850, 30 September 2011. Return to text.
  16. Peplowski, P.N. et al., Radioactive elements on Mercury’s surface from Messenger: implications for the planet’s formation and evolution, Science 333(6051):1850–1852, 30 September 2011. Return to text.
  17. Matson, J., New maps of Mercury show icy looking craters on the solar system’s innermost planet, scientificamerican.com, 28 March 2012. Return to text.
  18. Chabot, N.L. et al., Craters hosting radar-bright deposits in Mercury’s north polar region, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  19. Lawrence, D.J. et al., Hydrogen at Mercury’s north pole? Update on Messenger neutron measurements, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.
  20. Neumann, G.A. et al., Dark material at the surface of polar crater deposits on Mercury, 43rd LPSC, lpi.usra.edu, 2012. Return to text.

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