MESSENGER sees a smoother side of Mercury

March 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: Mercury's many colors

Related Stories

Mercury's many colors

July 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 surface.

Evidence for active hollows formation on Mercury

December 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 MESSENGER's discovery ...

A peek at a pitch-black pit

March 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 interior of the ...

Mercury down under

February 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 orbit, MESSENGER ...

Characterizing the surface composition of Mercury

September 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

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...

Cassini transmits first images from new orbit

December 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's ...

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

December 7, 2016

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has imaged the martian moon Phobos as part of a second set of test science measurements made since it arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October.

0 comments

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.