Astronomy Photo of the Day

February 20th, 2013


In this newly released high-definition 3D rotating map of the first planet of our solar system, formulated using thousands of observations taken by NASA's Messenger probe, which has been in orbit around the innermost planet of our solar system for an entire year now, the surface of Mercury has been revealed in clarity never experience until now, bringing this dull, colorless, shriveled husk of a planet to light.


Indeed, this teaser image isn't a true representation of Mercury, which lies some 35,980,000 miles (57,910,000 km) from our sun. As you can see in all of the images released to date, the planet is generally a brownish-grey color, similar to our moon, but this image has been exaggerated a bit, highlighting the composition of the various rock that composes it.


The areas that are orange signify the existence of volcanic planes, while the deep blue portions of the image are rich in some sort of opaque mineral we haven't deciphered just yet. The light-blue streaks are crater rays that were created through impacts between Mercury and space rocks of differing sizes, compositions and mass. When these collisions occur, ground up rock becomes scattered about the surface, which can be identified using certain filters. has a video of the full map you can view here;


Furthermore, the team is anxious to present Messenger's findings, which included an announcement a few months back concerning the existence of water-ice found at Mercury's shadowed poles. (the link to that story is in the 'Further Reading' section below) As a teaser, they revealed the presence of volatile elements such as sulfur and potassium. Both of which, were originally thought impossible due to the proximity Mercury lies from the sun. No doubt that MESSENGER will relay some pretty incredible finds over the course of its primary mission. Stay tuned!


Source Material:


"Messenger Images Used To Create High-Resolution Maps Of Mercury:"


"Mercury shows off its colourful side:"


Further Reading:


Messenger Finds Water-ice on Mercury:


Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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