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

Boston

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London