MESSENGER Mission News
January 17, 2008
MESSENGER Reveals Mercury’s Geological History
Shortly following MESSENGER’s closest approach to Mercury on January 14, 2008, the spacecraft’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) instrument acquired this image as part of a mosaic that covers much of the sunlit portion of the hemisphere not viewed by Mariner 10. Images such as this one can be read in terms of a sequence of geological events and provide insight into the relative timing of processes that have acted on Mercury's surface in the past.
The double-ringed crater pictured in the upper right of this image appears to be filled with smooth plains material, perhaps volcanic in nature. This crater was subsequently disrupted by the formation of a prominent scarp (cliff), the surface expression of a major crustal fault system, that runs alongside part of its southern rim and may have led to the uplift seen across a portion of the crater’s floor. A smaller crater in the upper left of the image has also been cut by the scarp, showing that the fault beneath the scarp was active after both of these craters had formed.
The MESSENGER team is working to combine inferences about the timing of events gained from this image with similar information from the hundreds of other images acquired by MESSENGER to extend and refine the geological history of Mercury previously defined on the basis only of Mariner 10 images.
This MESSENGER image was taken from a distance of about 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from the surface of Mercury, at 20:03 UTC, about 58 minutes after the closest approach point of the flyby. The region shown is about 500 kilometers (300 miles) across, and craters as small as 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) can be seen in this image.
MESSENGER Views Mercury’s Horizon
As the MESSENGER spacecraft drew closer to Mercury for its historic first flyby, the spacecraft’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) acquired an image mosaic of the sunlit portion of the planet. This image is one of those mosaic frames and was acquired on January 14, 2008, 18:10 UTC, when the spacecraft was about 18,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from the surface of Mercury, about 55 minutes before MESSENGER’s closest approach to the planet.
The image shows a variety of surface textures, including smooth plains at the center of the image, many impact craters (some with central peaks), and rough material that appears to have been ejected from the large crater to the lower right. This large 200-kilometer-wide (about 120 miles) crater was seen in less detail by Mariner 10 more than three decades ago and was named Sholem Aleichem for the Yiddish writer. In this MESSENGER image, it can be seen that the plains deposits filling the crater’s interior have been deformed by linear ridges. The shadowed area on the right of the image is the day-night boundary, known as the terminator. Altogether, MESSENGER acquired over 1200 images of Mercury, which the science team members are now examining in detail to learn about the history and evolution of the innermost planet.
Additional information and features from MESSENGER’s first flyby of Mercury will be available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/mer_flyby1.html. Following the flyby, be sure to check for the latest released images and science results!
MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.