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Full-color image of Mercury from first MESSENGER flyby.

Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and is the closest one to the Sun, orbiting it at 58 million kilometers away.


Mercury appearing in Liber astronomiae, 1550.

The ancient Greeks called the planet as Στίλβων (Stilbon), meaning "glowing", Ἑρμάων (Ermaon) and Ἑρμής (Hermhes),[1] a planetary name that is retained in modern Greek (Ερμής; Ermis).[2] The Romans dedicated the planet after the swift-footed Roman messenger god Mercury (Latin Mercurius), which they believed was the same Greek Hermes, because it moves across the sky faster than any other planet.[3][4] The astronomical symbol for Mercury is a stylized version of Hermes' caduceus.[5]

The Roman-Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote about the possibility of planetary transits of Mercury across the face of the Sun in his publication Planetary Hypotheses. He believed that zero transits had been observed either because planets such as Mercury were too small to see, or because the transits were not that often occuring.[6]

In ancient China, Mercury was known as "the Hour Star" (Chen-xing or Hanzi 辰星). It was associated with the direction north and the phase of water in the Five Phases system of metaphysics.[7] Modern east Asian cultures refer to the planet literally as the "water star" (水星), based on the Five elements of Chinese mythology.[8][9][10]


Mercury has a diameter of 4,879 kilometers and has a very little atmosphere (all of it would not blow up a balloon to its maximum size), which mostly consists of Sodium. The surface of Mercury resembles Earth's moon, due to it covered with impact craters. The craters were made by asteroids flying through space; craters are made where the meteorite hits. Earth has a blanket of air around it; Mercury barely has one. The blanket is what helps keep Earth from getting too hot or cold. Because it is so close to the sun, Mercury can be very hot, but at night, Mercury gets very cold, at less than -100 degrees Celsius.


Mariner 10 was the first spacecraft to visit Mercury. It flew by in 1974 and 1975. Not even half of Mercury was seen then. After that, nothing was sent to Mercury for more than 30 years. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft flew by Mercury in 2008 and 2009. In March 2011, it began to orbit Mercury.


  1. Στίλβων, Ἑρμάων, Ἑρμῆς. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. "Greek Names of the Planets". Retrieved July 14, 2012. Ermis is the Greek name of the planet Mercury, which is the closest planet to the Sun. It is named after the Greek God of commerce, Ermis or Hermes, who was also the messenger of the Ancient Greek gods. See also the Greek article about the planet.
  3. Dunne, James A.; Burgess, Eric (1978). "Chapter One". The Voyage of Mariner 10 – Mission to Venus and Mercury. NASA History Office. Search this book on
  4. Antoniadi, Eugène Michel (1974). The Planet Mercury. Translated from French by Moore, Patrick. Shaldon, Devon: Keith Reid Ltd. pp. 9–11. ISBN 0-904094-02-2. Search this book on
  5. Duncan, John Charles (1946). Astronomy: A Textbook. Harper & Brothers. p. 125. The symbol for Mercury represents the Caduceus, a wand with two serpents twined around it, which was carried by the messenger of the gods. Search this book on
  6. Goldstein, Bernard R. (1996). "The Pre-telescopic Treatment of the Phases and Apparent Size of Venus". Journal for the History of Astronomy. 27: 1. Bibcode:1996JHA....27....1G.
  7. Kelley, David H.; Milone, E. F.; Aveni, Anthony F. (2004). Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy. Birkhäuser. ISBN 0-387-95310-8. Search this book on
  8. De Groot, Jan Jakob Maria (1912). Religion in China: universism. a key to the study of Taoism and Confucianism. American lectures on the history of religions. 10. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 300. Retrieved January 8, 2010. Search this book on
  9. Crump, Thomas (1992). The Japanese numbers game: the use and understanding of numbers in modern Japan. Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese studies series. Routledge. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0-415-05609-8. Search this book on
  10. Hulbert, Homer Bezaleel (1909). The passing of Korea. Doubleday, Page & company. p. 426. Retrieved January 8, 2010. Search this book on