A “Feast of New Observations” from Mercury

Targeted-color image of Mercury’s Degas crater

This image, a color view of the northwestern rim of the 32-mile-wide Degas crater on Mercury, is just one of the most recent images to come in from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. It has been in orbit around Mercury since March 18 – just under three months – and already its findings have revolutionized what we know about the innermost planet in our solar system.

Color image of Mercury’s northern plains

MESSENGER has not only taken thousands of high-resolution images of Mercury’s surface from its new vantage point in orbit but has also measured the planet’s topographical chemical composition, mapped its magnetic field and studied the energetic particles in its magnetosphere. Ultimately this treasure trove of data is painting a picture of Mercury that was never before possible; the planet’s unique personality is developing more and more under the scrutiny of MESSENGER. Although heavily cratered, Mercury is not like our Moon; although possessing a magnetic field, Mercury is not like Earth. It definitely is its own world, and we are just now beginning to scratch the surface of what’s to be learned about its history.

“We are assembling a global overview of the nature and workings of Mercury for the first time, and many of our earlier ideas are being cast aside as new observations lead to new insights. Our primary mission has another three Mercury years to run, and we can expect more surprises as our solar system’s innermost planet reveals its long-held secrets.” 

– Sean Solomon, MESSENGER Principal Investigator

New images and findings from MESSENGER were presented during a NASA press conference on June 16… that conference can be watched in its entirety below:

Many of these new findings fill in key blanks regarding the topography of Mercury, while others challenge previous concepts of how the planet formed… while others open up new questions entirely.

“One mystery has been answered, only to be replaced by another, but that is how science works.”

– Project Scientist Ralph McNutt, APL

Read the press release on the MESSENGER mission site here.

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