Image Credit: NASA
NASA’s MESSENGER (short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) has delivered colorful new pictures of the Solar System’s smallest planet. Since entering Mercury’s orbit on March 17, 2011, the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MACS) aboard MESSENGER has taken over 250,000 images in order to give us a better idea of the planet’s surface features.
Part of MACS is called the Visual Infrared Spectrometer (VIRS) and its job is to capture individual tracks of spectral surface measurements, or different wavelengths of light that “probe the mineralogy of the surface of Mercury.” The wavelengths depend on the “combination of physical and chemical differences on the surface, including mineralogical diversity and the exposure age of the craters" and appear in either red, green, or blue.
The new images compiled that data with a "monochrome mosaic" produced by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) that used wide and narrow angle lenses to map the planet’s topography.
Don't be too excited though—the planet isn't usually this colorful and hypnotic. Mercury is actually gray.
According to NASA, “MESSENGER's highly successful orbital mission is about to come to an end, as the spacecraft runs out of propellant and the force of solar gravity causes it to impact the surface of Mercury near the end of April 2015.”