A high-resolution topographic model of Mercury has been released by astronomers on Friday, showing some of the data gathered from the Messenger spacecraft. The map brings together over 100,000 images of the planet taken during the long-term mission that included 4,104 orbits around Mercury and can help determined the planet’s history.
The map revealed the different topographic features on the planet, including its highest elevation of 4.48 kilometers and its lowest one of 5.38 kilometers below Mercury’s average. In this lowest elevation, was found on the floor of the Rachmaninoff basin, a basin suspected to host some of the most recent volcanic deposits on the planet, said the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in a statement.
“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 Susan Ensor, Manager of the Messenger Science Operations Center.
The latest released data complements an early finding by the Messenger spacecraft, due to the previous one only measured Mercury’s northern hemisphere and near-equatorial region and let the topography of most of the southern hemisphere largely unknown until now.
A large amount of images gathered to form the complete map were acquired with a large range of viewing geometries and illumination conditions that enabled the topography across Mercury’s surface to be determined, the statement from the APL added.
This is the largest control network ever processed using the Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), according to Kris Becker, a Messenger team member, and USGS computer scientist.
— Jason Major (@JPMajor) October 29, 2015
Colors of the Mercury’s northern volcanic plains
Messenger, which stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging, had previously discovered that past volcanic activity buried this proportion of the planet beneath extensive lavas, more than a mile deep in some areas, said APL’s Nancy Chabot, the Instrument Scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS).
In addition, this lavas also covered a vast area equivalent to approximately 60 percent of the continental United States, Chabot added. However, due to the long shadows of the north pole, the scene obscured the characteristic red color of the rocks, showing others more mixed and filtered.