More 'hollowed ground' on Mercury

January 5, 2012 by Jason Major, Universe Today
MESSENGER's latest NAC image of curious "hollows" surrounding a crater peak. The image shows an area approximately 41 miles (66 km) across. It has been rotated to enhance perspective. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The latest featured image from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, soon to complete its first year in orbit around Mercury, shows the central peak of the 78-mile (138-km) – wide crater Eminescu surrounded by more of those brightly-colored surface features dubbed “hollows”. Actually tinted a light blue color, hollows may be signs of an erosion process unique to Mercury because of its composition and close proximity to the Sun.

First noted in September of last year, hollows have now been identified in many areas across . They showed up in previous images as only bright spots, but once MESSENGER established orbit in March of 2011 and began high-resolution imaging of Mercury’s surface it became clear that these features were something totally new.

The lack of craters within hollows seems to indicate that they are relatively young features. In fact, they may be part of a process that continues even now.

“Analysis of the images and estimates of the rate at which the hollows may be growing led to the conclusion that they could be actively forming today,” said David Blewett of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

One hypothesis is that the hollows are formed by the sublimation of subsurface material exposed during the creation of craters, around which they are most commonly seen. Being so close to the Sun (29 million miles/46 million km at closest) and lacking a protective atmosphere like Earth’s, Mercury is constantly being scoured by the powerful solar wind. This relentless stream of charged particles may literally be “sandblasting” exposed volatile materials off the planet’s surface!

The image above shows an area approximately 41 miles (66 km) across. It has been rotated to enhance perspective; see the original image and caption here.

Explore further: NASA's Messenger Spacecraft Returns To Mercury

Related Stories

MESSENGER Returns Images from Oct. 6 Mercury Fly-By

October 7, 2008

MESSENGER is the first mission sent to orbit the planet closest to the sun. On Oct. 6, 2008, at roughly 4:40 a.m. ET, MESSENGER flew by Mercury for the second time this year. During the encounter, the probe swung just 125 ...

Strange hollows discovered on Mercury

October 25, 2011

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has discovered strange hollows on the surface of Mercury. Images taken from orbit reveal thousands of peculiar depressions at a variety of longitudes and latitudes, ranging in size from 60 feet ...

Incredible ‘sideways’ look at Mercury’s limb

November 29, 2011

Wow -- just wow! Here’s a unique, jaw-dropping, and beautiful look at Mercury from the MESSENGER spacecraft, in a mosaic created from nine images taken by the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System ...

Recommended for you

Orbiter views Mars surface fractures

October 8, 2015

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter often takes images of Martian sand dunes to study the mobile soils. These images provide information about erosion and ...

NASA measuring the pulsating aurora

October 7, 2015

Thanks to a lucky conjunction of two satellites, a ground-based array of all-sky cameras, and some spectacular aurora borealis, researchers have uncovered evidence for an unexpected role that electrons have in creating the ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2012
In that particular case, I think it tells us more about the impactor than from the planet itself.

In this picture, the place this process occur (around the central peak of an impact crater) makes me think this is a an outgassing phenomenon from the depts of Mercury but maybe more from the outgasing from the residual debris of the impactor itself (probably a comet, because it is mainly made of ices), burried under the crater.
By searching this kind of phenomenon, the scientists might be able to differentiate the craters left by an icy impactor than a rocky one.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.