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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor