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Mercury’s Surface

June 8, 2009

The MESSENGER spacecraft is giving scientists a first look at an entire half of the planet Mercury.


Filling in Mercury’s blanks. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Until last year, globes of the planet Mercury were blank on one side. Now, the new MESSENGER spacecraft is coloring in that missing half. Arizona State University planetary scientist Brett Denevi explains that the only previous mission to Mercury, Mariner 10, happened over 30 years ago. Not only were its cameras primitive, its three flybys took pictures of the same side repeatedly.

BRETT DENEVI (Arizona State University):
And when Mariner 10 flew by the planet, the same side was always in shadow, in the nighttime.

Using MESSENGER’s full color, high resolution photos, and ability to detect non-visible radiation, Denevi and her colleagues are finally filling in the Mercury map. They’ve also learned that Mercury isn’t a long-dead chunk of rock like the Moon, but has a rich volcanic history, and may have formed more like the planet Mars. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.