These colorful views of Mercury, released in February 2013, were produced by using images from the color base map imaging campaign during the primary mission of the MESSENGER spacecraft. These colors are not what Mercury would look like to the human eye, but rather the colors enhance the chemical, mineralogical, and physical differences between the rocks that make up Mercury’s surface.
In these images, young crater rays, extending radially from fresh impact craters, appear light blue or white. Medium-blue and dark-blue areas are a geologic unit of Mercury’s crust known as the “low-reflectance material,” thought to be rich in a dark, opaque mineral. Tan areas are plains formed by eruption of highly fluid lavas. In the first image above, the giant “Caloris” basin is the large circular tan feature located just to the upper right of center of the image. In the second image above, the crater in the upper right whose rays stretch across the planet is “Hokusai.”
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of our solar system’s innermost planet. During the one-year primary mission, MESSENGER acquired 88,746 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is now in a yearlong extended mission, with plans to acquire more than 80,000 additional images to support MESSENGER’s science goals.
Watch Mercury Spin on its Axis
This high-definition video shows Mercury’s globe as it rotates. A global color map of Mercury’s surface has been created by mosaicking thousands of sets of images obtained by the MESSENGER Wide Angle Camera (WAC).
As in the images above, the colors in this video are related to real variations in the spectral reflectance across the planet. This view captures both compositional differences and differences in how long materials have been exposed at Mercury’s surface. The color base map shown here consists of MDIS images taken through eight different color filters. It is part of a global color map that covers more than 99% of Mercury’s surface with an average resolution of about 1 kilometer per pixel.
Poe Crater on Mercury
This image acquired by MESSENGER on July 03, 2011, shows a color view of Poe crater on Mercury. In this representation, Poe’s raven-colored rim stands out from the tan volcanic plains that surround it. This image was acquired as a high-resolution targeted color observation. Targeted color observations are images of a small area on Mercury’s surface at resolutions higher than the 1-kilometer/pixel 8-color base map. During MESSENGER’s one-year primary mission, hundreds of targeted color observations were obtained. Now, during MESSENGER’s extended mission, high-resolution targeted color observations are more rare, because the 3-color base map is covering Mercury’s northern hemisphere with the highest-resolution color images that are possible.
Credit for images, video, and text in this article: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
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