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Data from Messenger now shows that as Mercury cooled it shrunk far more than earlier data had indicated.
A new census of these ridges, called lobate scarps, has found more of them, with steeper faces, than ever before. The discovery suggests that Mercury shrank by far more than the previous estimate of 2-3 kilometres, says Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. He presented the results today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California.
The finding helps explain how Mercury’s huge metallic core cooled off over time. It may also finally reconcile theoretical scientists, who had predicted a lot of shrinkage, with observers who had not found evidence of that — until now. “We are resolving a four-decades-old conflict here,” Byrne told the meeting.