NASA scientists retrieve information from the Mercury spacecraft that provides a revolutionary perspective into Mercury’s terrain.
Volcanoes, structures that produce hot oozing lava, and unusual looking craters are just several of the highlights that NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft have sent to scientists.
The findings are published in the September 29 issue of Science.
MESSENGER’s instruments are capturing data that can be obtained only from orbit,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “And we’ve only just begun. Mercury has many more surprises in store for us as our mission progresses.”
The MESSENGER has only been exploring our solar system’s innermost planet for six months. Already, they have discovered a land of volcanoes that make up about 6% of the planet.
In a press release from NASA, Dr. James Head of Brown University describes the size of the lava from these volcanoes – a length of approximately 1.2 miles.
“If you imagine standing at the base of the Washington Monument, the top of the lavas would be something like twelve Washington Monuments above you,” Head explains.
Among other findings were vents, surface landmarks that appear to produce the lava, and other surface landmarks that are bright blue in color.
NASA scientists like David Blewett, a staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and lead author of one of the Science reports believes that the origin of these blue craters – coined ‘hollows’ by his team – are different than any other craters found.
Analysis of the images and estimates of the rate at which the hollows may be growing led to the conclusion that they could be actively forming today,” Blewett says. “The old conventional wisdom was that ‘Mercury is just like the Moon.’ But from its vantage point in orbit, MESSENGER is showing us that Mercury is radically different from the Moon in just about every way we can measure.”
Space exploration can be just a few minutes away in Grand Rapids. Venture to the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium to learn about our other planets and other wonders of our mysterious universe. The planetarium is closed until October 9 for maintenance. But a new show entitled, “Everybody’s Sky: Star Stories from around the World” will be featured from October 10 through October 23.
NASA Press Release