Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

First global topographic model of Mercury
by Staff Writers
Laurel MD (SPX) May 10, 2016

A view of Mercury's northern volcanic plains from the new map released this week shown in enhanced color to emphasize different types of rocks on Mercury's surface. In the bottom right portion of the image, the 291-kilometer-diameter (181-mile-diameter) Mendelssohn impact basin, named after the German composer, may be seen to have been once nearly filled with lava. Toward the bottom left portion of the image, large wrinkle ridges, formed during lava cooling, are visible. Also in this region, the circular rims of impact craters buried by the lava can be identified. Near the top of the image, the bright orange region shows the location of a volcanic vent, newly identified because of this map and the source of one of the largest pyroclastic deposits on the planet. This view is shown in a polar stereographic map projection, and the north pole is toward the bottom left corner. Enhanced colors are created by placing the second principal component, the first principal component, and the ratio of images from the 430 nanometer and 1000 nanometer filters in the red, green, and blue channels, respectively. Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. For a larger version of this image please go here. Watch a video on the research here.

The MESSENGER mission has released the first global digital elevation model (DEM) of Mercury, revealing in stunning detail the topography across the entire innermost planet and paving the way for scientists to characterize fully the planet's geologic history.

The global topographic model was among three new products released by the Planetary Data System (PDS), an organization that archives and distributes all of NASA's planetary mission data. With this 15th and last major data release, the MESSENGER mission has shared more than 10 terabytes of Mercury science data, including nearly 300,000 images, millions of spectra, and numerous map products, along with interactive tools that allow the public to explore those data, notes Susan Ensor, who for the last nine years has managed the MESSENGER Science Operations Center, which oversees the collection of these data.

"The wealth of these data, greatly enhanced by the extension of MESSENGER's primary one-year orbital mission to more than four years, has already enabled and will continue to enable exciting scientific discoveries about Mercury for decades to come," said Ensor, a software engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland.

The First Global Topography of the Innermost Planet
The new global DEM complements an earlier product released by MESSENGER, the topography map derived from measurements by the Mercury Laser Altimeter. Because of the spacecraft's highly eccentric orbit, the laser altimeter was able to make measurements only in Mercury's northern hemisphere and near-equatorial region, leaving the topography of most of the southern hemisphere largely unknown, until now.

The new product reveals a variety of interesting topographic features, as shown in the animation above, including the highest and lowest points on the planet. The highest elevation on Mercury is at 4.48 kilometers above Mercury's average elevation, located just south of the equator in some of Mercury's oldest terrain. The lowest elevation, at 5.38 kilometers below Mercury's average, is found on the floor of Rachmaninoff basin, a basin suspected to host some of the most recent volcanic deposits on the planet.

More than 100,000 images were used to create the new model. During the orbital phase of the MESSENGER mission, images were acquired with a large range of viewing geometries and illumination conditions, which enabled the topography across Mercury's surface to be determined.

"This is the largest control network ever processed using the Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers of the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS)," explained MESSENGER team member and USGS computer scientist Kris Becker. The control network refers to the effort to register all of the images to each other, a step necessary to create the DEM.

"This DEM complements many of the other MESSENGER products and enhances the cartographic maps, and collectively they provide a wealth of new information about Mercury for further study," he added. To view the full topographic map with Mercury features labeled, visit this USGS website.

Revealing the Colors of Mercury's Northern Volcanic Plains
Also released is a new map that provides an unprecedented view of the region near Mercury's north pole.

"MESSENGER had previously discovered that past volcanic activity buried this portion of the planet beneath extensive lavas, more than a mile deep in some areas and covering a vast area equivalent to approximately 60% of the continental United States," said APL's Nancy Chabot, the Instrument Scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS).

However, because this region is near Mercury's north pole, the Sun is always low on the horizon, casting many long shadows across the scene that can obscure the color characteristics of the rocks.

Consequently, MDIS carefully captured images of this portion of the planet when the shadows were minimized through five different narrow-band color filters. In the newly map released Mercury's northern volcanic plains are revealed in striking color, as shown in the image below.

"This has become one of my favorite maps of Mercury," Chabot added. "Now that it is available, I'm looking forward to it being used to investigate this epic volcanic event that shaped Mercury's surface."

Improved Products and MESSENGER's Legacy
This latest release also includes a new global low-incidence-angle monochrome map, as well as advanced products included in earlier PDS releases that have been regenerated from data acquired over MESSENGER's entire period of orbital operations and with other improvements. Included among those are improved element concentration maps, derived from data collected by the spacecraft's X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS).

"The global XRS elemental composition maps are the culmination of a tremendous amount of effort on the part of the MESSENGER team and represent the first such global maps of any planetary body derived from X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy," said MESSENGER Deputy Principal Investigator Larry Nittler of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

"They reveal a remarkable range of chemical heterogeneity on the planet's surface, in some places correlated with other mapped quantities such as topography or color and in some places not. As such, they provide a unique dimension to teasing out Mercury's origin and geological history."

Though MESSENGER's orbital operations ended about one year ago, today's data release is one of the most important milestones for the project. Archiving the extensive MESSENGER data sets in NASA's PDS is a lasting legacy of the mission.

"During its four years of orbital observations, MESSENGER revealed the global characteristics of one of our closest planetary neighbors for the first time," offered MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, Director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"MESSENGER's scientists and engineers hope that data from the mission will continue to be utilized by the planetary science community for years to come, not only to study the nature of the innermost planet, but to address broader questions about the formation and evolution of the inner Solar System more generally."

All data sets in this MESSENGER release can be accessed from here, and all of the MESSENGER data archived at the PDS are available here.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
News Flash at Mercury
Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
The 2016 Transit of Mercury
Huntsville AL (SPX) May 08, 2016
Solar Scientists are accustomed to seeing spots on the sun - irregular islands of magnetism that sometimes erupt, producing strong solar flares. On May 9, 2016, they will see a spot of a very different kind - a dark circle moving across the solar disk. This spot is no ordinary sunspot. It's the planet Mercury, making a rare transit of the sun. Mercury passes directly between the sun and Ea ... read more

NASA research gives new insights into how the Moon got inked

First rocket made ready for launch at Vostochny spaceport

Supernova iron found on the moon

Russia to shift all Lunar launches to Vostochny Cosmodrome

Second ExoMars mission moves to next launch opportunity in 2020

Clues about Volcanoes Under Ice on Ancient Mars

Although Boiling, Water Does Shape Martian Terrain

Boiling water may be cause of Martian streaks: study

NASA Awards Contract for Aeronautics, Exploration Modeling, Simulation

NASA makes dozens of patents available in public domain

Michael Watkins Named Next JPL Director

US to move more assets into deep space over next 4 years

China's space technology extraordinary, impressive says Euro Space Center director

China can meet Chile's satellite needs: ambassador

China launches Kunpeng-1B sounding rocket

South China city gears up for satellite tourism

New landing date for ESA astronaut Tim Peake

Tim Peake goes roving

Russia delays space crew's return to Earth

15 years of Europe on the International Space Station

Date set for second SLS booster test

SpaceX successfully lands rockets first stage after space launch

SpaceX lands rocket's first stage after space launch

Agreement Signed for Airbus Safran Launchers

Scientists discover potentially habitable planets

MIT compiles list of potential gases to guide search for life on exoplanets

Three potentially habitable worlds found around nearby ultracool dwarf star

Light Echoes Give Clues to Protoplanetary Disk

Airbus Defence and Space to lead TeSeR, next EU project to clean up space

Anyone can try IBM's powerful quantum computer

Leonardo-Finmeccanica develops new E-scan radar

Cavitation intensity enhanced using pressure at bubble collapse region

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement