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During the orbital phase of the MESSENGER mission, images were acquired with a large range of viewing geometries and illumination conditions, which enabled the topography across Mercury’s surface to be determined.
The MESSENGER mission has released the first global digital elevation model (DEM) of Mercury, revealing in stunning detail the topography across the entire innermost planet and paving the way for scientists to characterize fully the planet’s geologic history.
The global topographic model was among three new products released today by the Planetary Data System (PDS), an organization that archives and distributes all of NASA’s planetary mission data.
With this 15 and last major data release, the MESSENGER mission has shared more than 10 terabytes of Mercury science data, including nearly 300,000 images, millions of spectra, and numerous map products, along with interactive tools that allow the public to explore those data, notes Susan Ensor, who for the last nine years has managed the MESSENGER Science Operations Center, which oversees the collection of these data.
“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 Ensor, a software engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Maryland.
(Download the full-resolution movie [150 MB]) Credit: NASA/U. Geological Survey/Arizona State University/Carnegie Institution of Washington/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory The new product reveals a variety of interesting topographic features, as shown in the animation above, including the highest and lowest points on the planet.
The highest elevation on Mercury is at 4.48 kilometers above Mercury’s average elevation, located just south of the equator in some of Mercury’s oldest terrain.
The lowest elevation, at 5.38 kilometers below Mercury’s average, is found on the floor of Rachmaninoff basin, a basin suspected to host some of the most recent volcanic deposits on the planet.More than 100,000 images were used to create the new model.The new global DEM complements an earlier product released by MESSENGER, the topography map derived from measurements by the Mercury Laser Altimeter.Because of the spacecraft’s highly eccentric orbit, the laser altimeter was able to make measurements only in Mercury’s northern hemisphere and near-equatorial region, leaving the topography of most of the southern hemisphere largely unknown, until now.An animation of the new global digital elevation model (DEM) created from MESSENGER images.Mercury’s surface is colored according to the topography of the surface, with regions with higher elevations colored brown, yellow, and red, and regions with lower elevations appearing blue and purple.