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Definition: Mercury (astronomy) from The Macmillan Encyclopedia

The innermost and second smallest (4880 km diameter) planet, orbiting the sun every 88 days at a mean distance of 57.9 million km. Its long period of axial rotation, 58.6 days, is two-thirds of its orbital period. Mercury can only be seen low in the twilight and early morning sky and, like the moon, exhibits phases. Its surface is heavily cratered, with intervening lava-flooded plains. It has a very thin atmosphere, mainly helium and argon. See also planetary probe.


Summary Article: Mercury
From Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Innermost planet of the solar system. Its average distance from the Sun is about 36 million mi (58 million km), but its highly elliptical orbit carries it 7.5 million mi (12 million km) nearer to and farther from the Sun. It is the smallest major planet, having a diameter of about 3,030 mi (4,880 km) and a mass about one-eighteenth of Earth’s. With the shortest period of revolution (only 88 Earth days) and the highest average orbital speed (30 mi/sec [48 km/sec]) of any planet, it is aptly named after the Roman fleet-footed messenger god. It spins very slowly, making one complete rotation relative to the stars every 59 Earth days, while its solar day (from one sunrise to the next) is 176 Earth days, owing to its revolution around the Sun. Its surface is heavily cratered. Its most impressive feature is perhaps the 960-mi (1,550-km) Caloris Basin, formed by a huge meteorite impact. Mercury also has steep cliffs that extend for hundreds of miles. The discovery of a magnetic field in its vicinity suggests it has a large iron core, which would account for a mean density almost as high as Earth’s. Its atmosphere is negligible; its surface gravity, about one-third that of Earth’s, holds an exceedingly tenuous layer of gases. Temperatures at its surface change dramatically, ranging from a high that can exceed 800 °F (425 °C) on the sunward side to a low of about −290 °F (−180 °C) at the end of its night.

Place: Mercury

Location: planet

Type: Physical Place

Related Place: Sun

Keywords: solar system, Sun, Mercury, planet

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Copyright 1994-2017 Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc

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