Revolutionizing Our Understanding of the Solar System via Sample Return from Mercury

Kathleen E. Vander Kaaden, Francis M. McCubbin, Paul K. Byrne, Nancy L. Chabot, Carolyn M. Ernst, Catherine L. Johnson, Michelle S. Thompson

Space Science Reviews
November 2019, 215:49


“Data from Mariner 10, MESSENGER, and ground-based telescopic observations have facilitated great advancements towards understanding the geochemistry, geology, internal structure, exosphere, and magnetosphere of Mercury. However, there are critical science questions that can be only addressed via examination of a sample in Earth-based laboratories, where numerous highly sensitive analytical measurements are possible. Collecting a sample from the surface of Mercury and bringing it to Earth for in-depth analysis would allow for transformative Solar System science to be conducted, examining aspects of our Solar System such as the evolution of the protoplanetary disk, space weathering on airless bodies, the geochemical behavior of elements at extreme conditions, and the origin and distribution of volatiles across the terrestrial planets. Furthermore, our knowledge of Mercury’s differentiation and geochemical processes, chronology and geologic evolution, tectonism and geomechanical properties, and past and ongoing magnetism would be greatly advanced via analysis of a sample from Mercury. Although there are ample challenges and knowledge gaps associated with sample return from Mercury in terms of both spacecraft requirements and material requirements for curatorial facilities, a sample from the planet would be an invaluable scientific resource for generations to come, enabling the most sophisticated measurements to be brought to bear for decades and helping to truly unlock the mysteries of our Solar System.”