This Is What the Surface of Mercury Looks Like

By Giuliana Manca, Epoch Times
May 10, 2016 Updated: May 10, 2016

The first comprehensive map of Mercury’s surface has been published.

Released May 6, the map is the product of data collected by NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft. 

Called a global digital elevation model (DEM), the map above displays the elevation changes and land forms of our solar system’s smallest planet. 

The highest elevation on Mercury is at 2.78 miles (4.48 kilometers) above Mercury’s average elevation. The lowest elevation, at 3.34 miles (5.38 kilometers) below Mercury’s average.

A view of Mercury's northern volcanic plains is shown in enhanced color to emphasize different types of rocks on Mercury's surface. In the bottom right portion of the image, the 181-mile- (291-kilometer)-diameter Mendelssohn impact basin, named after the German composer, appears 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. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution of Washington
A view of Mercury’s northern volcanic plains is shown in enhanced color to emphasize different types of rocks on Mercury’s surface. (NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Individuals at the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University, Carnegie Institute of Science, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, and NASA worked together to generate the incredibly detailed model using more than 100,000 images. 

“The creation of this map is a prime example of the utility and beauty that can come out of overcoming complex cartographic problems,” said Lazlo Kestay, Director of the US Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center. 

“This highly aesthetic product literally provides a whole new dimension to the study of Mercury images, opening many new paths to understanding the surface, interior, and past of the closest planet to the sun,” said Kestay. 

MESSENGER, launched in August 3, 2004, was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury; its sophisticated instruments, devices, and cameras collected data on “the smallest, densest and least-explored of the terrestrial planets.”

The spacecraft traveled 4.9 billion miles before reaching its target planet, Mercury. 

Since orbital operations began in 2011, MESSENGER has completed 4,104 orbits around Mercury and has collected over 10 terabytes of data, which include nearly 300,000 images, millions of spectra, and numerous map products. This was MESSENGER’s fifteenth and last major data release.

By March 2012, the primary science objectives of the mission were complete, yet the mission was extended twice, allowing for additional images and details to be captured.

On April 30, 2015, the MESSENGER’s mission ended with its impact with Mercury’s surface.