Bill Dunford: You and I can do something very few people in history have been able to do: tour the planet Mercury. In fact, just last week NASA made available a new trove of images from the MESSENGER spacecraft. The orbiter circles the planet every eight hours, carrying a sun-blocking heat shield on one side and a suite of powerful cameras and instruments on another. I’ve been exploring the new pictures, and here are a few that caught my eye. These were all taken during this calendar year.
Mercury’s spectacular Debussy crater as seen by the MESSENGER spacecraft. To the eye, the 80-km-wide crater would appear colored mostly in shades of gray.
But by combining images taken through the orbiter’s 996, 748, and 433 nm filters for red, green, and blue we can suddenly see the color differences that reveal the mineralogy of the surface.
Flying Over Mercury
This shot of Mercury’s limb from the MESSENGER orbiter gives a sense of what it might be like to fly over the landscape southwest of Debussy Crater.
At the Edge of Darkness
The MESSENGER spacecraft returned this close view of Petronius Crater near the north pole of Mercury. The floor of the 36-km crater, which never sees the sun, hides deposits of water ice.