With only a few weeks to live, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has been capturing some of the most detailed images we've ever seen of the Solar System's innermost planet. Here's the latest batch of Mercury porn.
The MESSENGER mission to Mercury, after an extraordinary run of five years, is coming to an end. The spacecraft is running out of fuel and is expected to crash onto the surface sometime around April 30. But until then, MESSENGER scientists are squeezing everything they have out the intrepid probe. Just yesterday, mission controllers successfully performed a nail-biting maneuver to further delay its inevitable impact.
Over the past several months and weeks, due to its close proximity to the surface, MESSENGER has been taking some of the best pics of the mission.
Here are some recently released pics (all images and captions courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington).
Pits and Scarps
Of interest: "Lessing crater can be seen in the lower left of this image. Instead of the typical central peak found in a complex crater on Mercury, Lessing sports a central pit, likely formed by volcanic activity. A large tectonic scarp that formed when the planet's interior cooled and contracted can be seen running through a crater near the center of the image."
Of interest: "This small ghost crater lies in Mercury's northern volcanic plains. At some point after its formation, lava completely filled this crater. Only the hint of a rim has been left behind as proof that this crater exists."
A Field of Hollows
Of interest: "Mercury's hollows are among its most distinctive—and unusual—surface features. In this stunning view, we see a field of hollows in the western portion of the floor of Zeami impact basin. Hollows populate much of the rest of the basin's interior, with large concentrations several kilometers across occurring in the north and northeast parts of the floor. Individual hollows, however, can be as small as a couple of hundred meters in width."
Of interest: "Here, an unnamed crater, about 7.5 km (4.7 mi.) in diameter was covered, and almost fully buried, by lava. At some point after, compression of the surface formed scarps and ridges in the area that, when they reached the buried crater, came to describe its curved outline. Many arcuate ridges on Mercury formed this way. In this high-resolution view, we can also see the younger, later population of smaller craters that pock-mark the surface."
Inside and Up Close
Of Interest: "The inside of this young, rayed impact crater is seen at a resolution of just over five meters per pixel. The walls appear smooth where material has flowed downhill and come to rest on the crater floor in a jumble of boulders and other fragmental debris."
Anatomy of a Young Crater
Of interest: "Another look at the fresh impact crater seen here is revealed in this image. This time the image is showing incredible detail of erosional patterns on the crater wall and a glimpse of boulders just outside the crater rim."
Small and Young
Of interest: "Small graben, narrow linear troughs, have been found associated with small scarps (bottom left, white arrows) on Mercury and the Moon. These graben (bottom right, white arrows) likely resulted from the bending and extension of the upper crust in response to scarp formation (bottom illustration) and are only tens of meters wide. On the basis of the rate of degradation and infilling of small troughs on the Moon by continuous meteoroid bombardment, small lunar graben and their associated scarps are less than 50 Myr old! It is likely that Mercury’s small graben and their associated scarps are younger still, because the cratering rate on Mercury is greater than on the Moon."
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