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Water is escaping from Mercury's surface, which is pocked with ancient volcanoes and huge impact craters.
NASA got its most detailed look ever at the planet when its Messenger spacecraft traveled 14,000 miles along the equator during a recent 10-minute flyby.
Scientists reported their findings yesterday in 11 papers published in a special section of the journal Nature.
In order for such shrinking to take place, Mercury must have had a molten, liquid core that has cooled and contracted over time.
That may settle a debate that has raged for more than 30 years about the planet's magnetic field. Researchers have wondered whether the field is more like Earth's, fed by a dynamo of circulating fluid, or like that of Mars, which hosts solid, magnetised rocks.