American Association for the Advancement of Science
Extraordinary video shows entire surface of Mercury in full colour for the first time
Footage reveals complex geology and extraordinary temperature extremes of planet
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Friday 15 February 2013
Scientists have taken the first colour images of the entire surface of the planet Mercury to reveal a mysterious world of complex geology and extraordinary temperature extremes.
The image is a composite of thousands of pictures taken from cameras with eight light filters on board Nasa’s Messenger space probe, which has been orbiting the innermost planet of the Solar System for the past two years.
Although the colours are enhanced with the aid of the light filters, they represent true differences in structure and composition of the rocks on the surface of Mercury, said David Blewitt, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“Messenger has revealed Mercury to be a really fascinating, dynamic and complex world,” Dr Blewitt told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
“The colours represent real differences in the composition of the rocks on the surface. The orange areas represent volcanic plains and the areas of deep blue are reflections of blue light, but we’re not really sure what’s causing that,” he said.
Mercury is the nearest planet to the Sun where temperatures can fluctuate from minus 200C to 450C - the largest temperature variation on any planet. At the poles there are craters where sunlight never penetrates and water ice has collected, whereas at lower latitudes the heat is enough to vapourise rock minerals, Dr Blewitt said.
“Mercury is a planetary oddball. It is the smallest planet yet has the highest density. It is the only planet in a spin-orbit resonance, making exactly three turns on its axis for every two revolutions about the Sun,” he told the meeting.
“Although its appearance is superficially similar to that of the Moon, Messenger has demonstrated that Mercury is radically different from the Moon in all characteristics that have been measured,” he said.
The planet as a much bigger iron core for its size than any other rocky planet, including Earth, and its surface has surprisingly high levels of sulphur and potassium. Some of its craters are also pock-marked by mysterious depressions or “hollows” that have puzzled scientists because they are not seen on the crater-scarred surface of the Moon.
“The presence of sulphur compounds in surface rocks may be responsible for the formation of hollows, strange sublimation-like features that have no counterpart on the Moon but resemble a type of terrain found on the south polar ice cap of Mars,” Dr Blewitt said.
The only previous images of Mercury have been taken either by telescopes or the Mariner 10 space probe which made three planetary fly-bys in the mid 1970s. More than 30 years later, Messengers became the first and only probe to enter orbit around the planet and take a full 360-degree observation of its landscape.
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 A Chinese journalist has appeared on state television 'confessing' to causing the stock market chaos
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
The man who sold Minecraft to Microsoft for £2.5 billion says it's made him miserable
Nazi 'gold train': Fire engulfs suspected location of vehicle in Poland
Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Isis releases graphic video showing four Shia 'spies' being burned alive in Anbar, Iraq
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms
£30 - 38k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a digitally focussed Account Man...
£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this digital ...
£16500 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity exists ...