Mercury Shows Off Its Colorful Side
February 18, 2013

Messenger Images Used To Create High-Resolution Maps Of Mercury

[ Watch the Video: NASA Captures Planet Mercury In Color HD ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA scientists have used thousands of images acquired by the Messenger probe during its first year in orbit around Mercury in order to create a colorful, high-resolution map of the planet, various media outlets reported on Friday.

According to the Daily Mail, the images of Mercury, which appears to be brownish-gray in color when viewed from here on Earth, were taken with eight different color filters in order to enhance the actual variations in color that are linked to the composition and materials on the planet´s surface.

More than 88,000 images were collected by Messenger during its 12-month primary mission, and those images — revealed for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston on February 15 — provide the first-ever 360-degree view of the planet orbiting closest to the sun, said Nick Collins, Science Correspondent with The Telegraph.

"Messenger's camera has filters that go from the blue to the near-infrared of the spectrum, and we are able to use computer processing to enhance the very subtle but real color differences that are present on Mercury's surface," Dr. David Blewett, a Messenger scientist and a member of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, told BBC News.

"The areas that you see that are orange — those are volcanic plains. There are some areas that are deep blue that are richer in an opaque mineral which is somewhat mysterious — we don't really know what that is yet,” he added. "And then you see beautiful light-blue streaks across Mercury's surface. Those are crater rays formed in impacts when fresh, ground-up rock is strewn across the surface of the planet.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Messenger team, Blewett said that NASA has been able to determine that Mercury is “an oddball planet,” Alok Jha of The Guardian said. The project scientist told those in attendance at the AAAS meeting that, despite being the smallest of the eight planets in our solar system, it is actually the densest.

He added that the internal structure of the planet was different from the other planets, and that the surface composition was “enigmatic” because “it consists of rock types that we don't have much experience with. It has a global, Earth-like magnetic field, Venus and Mars do not.”

Jha added that Messenger was able to detect the presence of several elements on the planet´s surface, including iron, potassium, and titanium. However, due to the lack of rock samples to study, scientists are unable to determine in which minerals and compounds those elements can be found.