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On the internal structures of mercury and venus


Recent radar measures of the radius and mass of Mercury imply a composition for the planet containing about 60% iron. One or other of two conclusions seems inescapable: either that Mercury is a highly exceptional object among terrestrial planets, or that all measures to date of the planet involve substantial systematic error. In either case the situation is such that independent checking of the radius and mass of Mercury by some entirely different means has become of the greatest importance to planetary physics and cosmogony.

The recent radar and other determinations of the solid radius of Venus imply an internal structure similar to that of the Earth, namely a liquid core surrounded by a solid mantle and outer-shell zone. The theory also implies that the temperatures within Venus should be slightly higher than at the corresponding parts of the Earth. The proportion of mass in the core of Venus (about 25% of the whole) is entirely consistent with the phase-change hypothesis as to its nature, as of course is also the absence of any liquid or iron core in both Mars and the Moon. On the older iron-core hypothesis, Venus with considerably less iron content by mass than the Earth, and Mars and the Moon with none, would all present problems in different degrees to account for the differences of composition.

If Venus began as an all-solid planet, the initial radius would have been about 6300 km, and the total amount of surface reduction to date owing to contraction of the planet would have been almost 40 million km2, and as a proportion of the total area only slightly less than the contraction of the Earth. The theory thus predicts the existence of folded and thrusted mountain-systems of terrestrial type at the surface of Venus.

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Lyttleton, R.A. On the internal structures of mercury and venus. Astrophys Space Sci 5, 18–35 (1969).

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  • Iron
  • Mercury
  • Radar
  • Systematic Error
  • Internal Structure