No, humans cannot breathe on Mercury.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Can You Breathe On Mercury? (EXPLAINED)
Relevant Facts About Mercury
Mercury is the closest planet to the sun.
It is really small, spins really slowly, and doesn’t have much gravity at all.
In fact, it has so little gravity that the planet cannot hang onto an atmosphere of its own.
Solar winds have come through and torn off atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, helium, and some other elements from the planet’s surface and meteorites that have come close or struck the planet.
The planet’s weak gravity is able to hold onto these atoms, which forms a thin “exosphere.”
Relevant Facts About Human Respiration
The air that we humans breath on Earth is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen.
There are also small amounts of carbon dioxide, argon, helium, neon, methane, hydrogen, and krypton.
When we take a breathe in, our bodies utilize the oxygen, and when we breathe out, we exhale the other gases that we don’t use for life (the nitrogen, argon, helium, carbon dioxide, etc).
If a person were to breathe in air that had a lower amounts of oxygen per breath (like we can experience when we climb tall mountains), the person could struggle to remain conscious or even die.
The same is true if a person were to breathe a mix of air that had too much oxygen in it.
While a few breaths might not be the end of you, over time, the amount of oxygen in the lungs would overload the body’s system to use it.
It backs up, so to speak.
This can cause serious problems with the nervous system and cause permanent damage.
If you were to change the composition of the air so that the person was breathing significantly higher amounts of helium, hydrogen, or argon, for example, the person would feel again like there wasn’t enough air to breathe (like up on a mountain).
Even though there was plenty of “air” to breathe in, the air wouldn’t have enough oxygen in it to sustain the individual.
Unconsciousness and then death would result, despite all of the “air” if the individual was not returned to environment that had the right balance of oxygen for survival.
Why Can’t Humans Breathe On Mercury?
The reason humans can’t breathe on Mercury (putting aside all the other drama about getting to Mercury, dealing with the alternatingly freezing or scorching temperatures, and the deadly radiation) is that Mercury doesn’t have enough “air,” so to speak, on Mercury to sustain life.
Mercury has a thin exosphere.
There are some atoms of oxygen in that exosphere, as well as some other familiar components of air we’d recognize.
But there’s a lot of stuff in the exosphere that generally don’t breathe.
The exosphere is made of atoms of sodium, magnesium, hydrogen, potassium, calcium, iron, aluminum, argon, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and xenon.
But there is not near enough of it to enable a human to take off his helmet and draw in a breath.
Further, the air pressure is so low on Mercury that it pretty much a vacuum.
There isn’t much difference between taking a breath on Mercury and taking a breath out in space far away from any planet.
This means that if you were take off your helmet and breathe out, the change in pressure would probably pull all of the air from your lungs, and you wouldn’t be strong enough to draw anything back in, even if there were enough to breathe in.
If you tried to hold your breathe, the change in pressure by opening up your suit would probably cause your lungs to explode as the gases inside your lungs from your last breathe suddenly expanded.
Don’t forget that the oxygen and other gases in your body would probably be doing damage to your internal structures.
You might not die instantly while trying to breathe on Mercury, but expect unconsciousness to set in within 10-20 seconds or so.
Did You Know? (Other Facts About Mercury)
Here are some facts you may not have known about Mercury:
- Mercury is slowly shrinking. The prevailing theory is that the core of Mercury was molten, but is now slowly cooling and hardening. The solid phase of the core takes up less space than the liquid phase, and thus the planet gets smaller.
- Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, but is not actually the hottest planet. Venus is the hottest. The reason? Venus has a really thick atmosphere, which holds in heat. Mercury has almost no atmosphere, and has nothing to hold in the warmth radiated from the sun. Believe it or not, but ice has been discovered on Mercury.
- Mercury takes only a brief 88 Earth days to orbit the sun, but takes almost 58 Earth days to rotate fully around on its axis one time. Compare that to Jupiter, which is about 30 times larger than Mercury, but completes one full rotation on its axis in about 10 Earth hours.
- There is no known official discovery date for Mercury. As far back as we have observations and recordings, people have known about the existence of Mercury up in the sky.
- NASA purposefully crashed a small probe craft on the surface of Mercury in 2015. The craft was out of fuel, and it was thought of as an opportunity to observe and document what and how it happened.
Mercury is a fascinating planet, and we look forward to learning more about it as the progress of space exploration continues.
You might also enjoy: