The subtle yet surprisingly varied colors of Mercury are revealed in the latest images from
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft (the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) space probe). The 485 kg (1,070 lb) MESSENGER spacecraft was launched aboard a Delta II rocket in August 2004 to study Mercury’s chemical composition, its geology, and its magnetic field. It became the second mission after 1975′s Mariner 10 to reach Mercury successfully when it made a flyby in January 2008, followed by a second flyby in October 2008, and a third flyby in September 2009. This new image was assembled from images taken of Wide Angle Camera images acquired in 996, 748 and 433 nanometers for red, green and blue, shows a semi-lit limb of Mercury with the bright rayed crater Debussy visible at left. (The image has been rotated 180 degrees from the original, and color saturation was boosted by 25%.) Named for the French composer Claude Debussy of “Claire de Lune” fame, the crater itself is approximately 50 miles (80 km) wide. It was first detected by ground-based radar telescopes in 1969 as a bright spot. Now, 43 years later, we have a spacecraft in orbit sending back images like this.The various colors seen across Mercury are due to different mineral compositions of the geologic regions. The exact compositions are not yet known, and the current puzzle that researchers are trying to solve with Nasa’s MESSENGER spacecraft is to figure out what materials make up Mercury’s complex, multi-hued surface. That will also give a clue as to what’s inside the planet and how it evolved as well as how it is currently evolving today.