National Geographic

VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers

Menu

There’s More to Mercury Than Meets the Eye

It’s tiny, it’s pockmarked, and it’s got almost no atmosphere. So it’s probably small wonder that we cared so little for poor Mercury that we couldn’t be bothered to check out a whole half of the planet until 2008.

mercury-global-color.jpg

—Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Arizona State University/Carnegie Institute of Washington

But when we did send a probe to scope out the scene, boy did we find some doozies!

Last October the MESSENGER probe had its second sweep past the planet as it settles into an eventual orbit. Not to waste the opportunity, scientists programed the craft to collect all kinds of data during the brief flyby.

The latest issue of Science describes a whole slew of neat findings from the October visit, including:

I personally loved the magnetic twisters, which I found cool enough to assign as a news story that was deftly reported by our own Rebecca Carroll.

But that last one is also pretty impressive.

As impact basins go, the newly named Rembrandt is a sizable feature—430 miles (700 kilometers) wide, or big enough to stretch from D.C. to Boston if it was on Earth.

rembrandt-basin-earth.jpg

—Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/Smithsonian Institution Copyright: Smithsonian Institution

For something so large, it really surprised the research team to find that the floor of the basin has remained largely unchanged for 3.9 billion years.

“This is the first time we have seen terrain exposed on the floor of an impact basin on Mercury that is preserved from when it formed,” the Smithsonian’s Thomas Watters said in a statement. “Terrain like this is usually completely buried by volcanic flows.”

Being almost bare-bottomed means that researchers can see the patterns of ridges and troughs criss-crossing the basin floor, including evidence of a thrust fault that would rival the San Andreas in California.

“The pattern of tectonic landforms in the Rembrandt basin is truly extraordinary,” Watters said. “It is unlike anything we have seen before in other impact basins on Mercury, the Moon or Mars, or in basins formed on the icy moons of the outer planets.”

Comments

  1. Website Design
    http://www.websiteoptimizationindia.com
    September 1, 2011, 4:50 am

    good article i simply did not desire a initially, however once receiving one for article i am fully converted.

  2. wilma
    August 2, 2010, 6:03 pm

    Well thought out article, thank you ever so much
    WP : cheap web hosting expert and cheap website hosting provider

  3. wilma
    August 2, 2010, 5:12 am

    Awesome stuff, thank you for your time and efforts
    Wilma –
    Work from home UK | Stay at home mom jobs

  4. jack
    July 19, 2010, 3:46 am

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part people lack substance but I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!
    I’ll be checking in on a regularly now.
    Keep up the good work!
    mbt sandals
    mbt shoes online

  5. WillPR
    July 5, 2010, 7:38 pm

    Excellent research and I’ll be returning regularly!
    WPR – Expert in EuroMillions, E Lottery and E-Lottery

  6. jp2506
    June 21, 2010, 11:16 pm

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part people lack substance but I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!
    I’ll be checking in on a regularly now.
    Keep up the good work!
    Air Max 1
    Jim Kelly Jerseys

  7. diyRoberts
    June 14, 2010, 10:13 am

    I have been honestly fascinated by this article as a Christian and a business owner
    Thank you for your wise words
    Will Roberts
    Cheap Web Hosting Expert