MESSENGER sees a smoother side of Mercury

Mar 22, 2013 by Jason Major
A high-resolution view of a “silky” surface on Mercury.

During its two years in orbit around Mercury—as well as several more years performing flybys—the MESSENGER spacecraft has taken over 150,000 images of the innermost planet, giving us a look at its incredibly rugged, Sun-scoured surface like never before. But not all areas on Mercury appear so harsh—it has its softer sides too, as seen above in an image released earlier today.

Here we see the smooth walls, floor and upper surfaces around an irregular depression on Mercury in high definition. The velvety texture is the result of widespread layering of fine particles, because unlike many features on Mercury's ancient surface this rimless depression wasn't caused by an impact from above but rather explosively escaping lava from below—this is the rim of a , not a crater!

A wide-angle view of the same depression, captured by MESSENGER in July 2012.

Previous images have been acquired of this irregularly-shaped depression but this is the highest resolution view MESSENGER has captured to date – about 26 meters per pixel.

The full depression, located northeast of the Rachmaninoff basin, is about 36 km (22 miles) across at its widest. It's surrounded by a smooth blanket of high-reflectance material—explosively ejected from a pyroclastic eruption that spread over the surface like snow.

Other similar vents have been found on Mercury, like this heart-shaped one in Caloris basin. The smooth, bright surface material is a telltale sign of a volcanic outburst, as are the rimless, irregular shapes of the vents.

The numerous small craters that are seen inside the vent and on the smooth surrounding surfaces would be from that occurred well after the eruption.

Explore further: Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mercury's many colors

Jul 27, 2012

Although composited from expanded wavelengths of light, this wide-angle image from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft shows the amazing variation of colors and tones to be found on Mercury’s Sun-scoured ...

Evidence for active hollows formation on Mercury

Dec 20, 2012

A recent image acquired by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft shows the interior of Eminescu, a youngish 130-km (80 mile) wide crater just north of Mercury's equator. Eminescu made science headlines last year with MESS ...

A peek at a pitch-black pit

Mar 20, 2012

MESSENGER captured this high-resolution image of an elongated pit crater within the floor of the 355-km (220-mile) -wide crater Tolstoj on Mercury on Jan. 11, 2012. The low angle of sun illumination puts the ...

Mercury down under

Feb 27, 2012

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, about to wrap up its first full year in orbit around Mercury, captured this view of the planet’s heavily-cratered southern hemisphere on August 28, 2011. Because of its ...

Characterizing the surface composition of Mercury

Sep 17, 2012

The MESSENGER spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, has been revealing new information about the surface chemistry and geological history of the innermost planet in the solar system. ...

Recommended for you

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

18 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

23 hours ago

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Image: Rosetta's Philae lander snaps a selfie

23 hours ago

Philae is awake… and taking pictures! This image, acquired last night with the lander's CIVA (Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer) instrument, shows the left and right solar panels of ESA's well-traveled ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

Let's put a sailboat on Titan

The large moons orbiting the gas giants in our solar system have been getting increasing attention in recent years. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only natural satellite known to house a thick atmosphere. ...

Net neutrality balancing act

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...