Mercury is an often-overlooked planet when it comes to missions and discoveries. We’ve only sent a few probes there. But in the grand scheme of things, would it ever be worth colonizing the planet? How many people could it support? Where would they live? What would they do? Our goal is to theorize why one day, our innermost planet may see humans on it.
The Big, Bright Picture Of Colonizing Mercury
To go anywhere, one must have a reason for it. Christopher Columbus discovered America while trying to find an easier route to China. America was colonized for many reasons – by the pilgrims, by the conquistadors, and also by the natives that (likely) crossed the Bering Strait.
Mercury is a rather barren planet, so what does it harbor that we have need of?
Thanks to its (obviously) close proximity to the sun, the planet offers the highest amount of solar energy of any planet. The “Solar Constant”, or amount of energy available is incredible. At a peak of 14.5 kilowatts per meter -more than ten times as much as Earth – offers an unparalleled location in our Solar System. Only collectors closer to the sun may prove better, but a stable object like Mercury offers many advantages, such as available resources in which to create solar panels and the associated infrastructure.
Mercury may also offer “Peaks of Eternal Light” – areas that are constantly receiving sunlight. This, again, would make Mercury the best location in our Solar System for energy production.
Other important resources include the likelihood of ice at the polar caps, which have a very comfortable temperature of 0° C, or 32° F. Mercury also is likely to have very high amounts of Helium 3, a likely key resource in fusion reactions, as well as ores such as silicates, iron, and magnesium. This is very important, as these resources are all essential in the creation of solar panels. Think of Mercury as the Mid East of the Solar System.
Where To Live
The surface of Mercury is typically nightmarish, as it can get well over 700° F during the slow-moving day cycle. However, the polar regions are (as mentioned) a balmy 0° C, which means that temperature controls would not have to be as difficult to deal with as most other destinations in our Solar System.
Like the Moon, underground shelters are attractive on Mercury
, as they would mitigate issues on a planet with no atmosphere. Mercury does have a magnetosphere, which protects the planet from cosmic rays, which is a huge plus.
So the likelihood of a base near the poles is perfect. Points would likely feature the aforementioned peaks of eternal light, with reasonable temperatures. Also, due to temperature, ice is likely to be found, which is a very important resource for the spacefaring society. The fewer resources that must be imported, the more viable the colony is to be. This is the same, regardless if its a colony on the Moon, or an island in one of Earth’s oceans.
Difficulties and Drawbacks
Colonizing Mercury is not without its problems
.lthough it is very attractive due to its proximity to the Sun, it is also a drawback. The gravitational interaction with the Sun results in more difficulty when launching craft to and from Mercury. As it stands, spacecraft launched to the planet take a significant amount of time to get there – despite being rather close to Earth.
Temperatures are also an issue when venturing beyond the polar areas. If vital resources are found outside the caps, then they may prove very difficult to extract. Mercury rotates just once every 352 days. This means that missions would need to likely take place near the terminator, which the area where day turns into night.
When Will it Happen?
Mercury is unlikely to be a primary target of the first colonization missions outside of Earth, as more attractive options exist, such as the Moon, and Mars. However, as energy requirements become larger in a spacefaring society, Mercury becomes infinitely more valuable, especially in Helium 3 becomes very important, as only the Moon, Mercury, and Uranus are attractive options for extracting.
Although its hard to put a date on when its likely we would colonize, we should likely see some attempt made between 2080 and 2120, assuming our society begins to take colonization seriously.