Not Exactly the Solar System’s Garden Spot

By Tom Yulsman | March 21, 2013 9:01 pm

A mosaic of images from the Messenger spacecraft show the entire surface of Mercury. (Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

I know, this is supposed to be a blog about planet Earth, not our neighbors in the solar system. But when a Facebook friend posted these images of Mercury to her wall, I thought they were so beautiful that I just had to share them.

The images show both sides of Mercury, and 100% of the surface. Scientists made them by stitching together thousands of individual images from the Messenger spacecraft, which, in a first, has been orbiting the planet since March 18, 2011. So far, the spacecraft has taken more than 160,000 images. Now in an extended mission mode, it is still going. And going…

The pockmarked surface of Mercury is testament to bombardment by meteors, with younger craters showing up as light blue or whitish. Lava flows are evident in the tan regions. For more information, as well as visualizations, check out NASA’s Visualization Explorer.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Miscellaneous
MORE ABOUT: Mercury, Messenger, NASA
  • Julian Friedland

    Are there that many craters in the Earth?

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mercury has almost no atmosphere, so meteors do not burn up like they do as they streak toward Earth’s surface. The result is that far more have reached Mercury’s surface — much like on the Moon. Here on Earth we also have plate tectonics and lots and lots of liquid water. These two factors cause rocks on Earth’s surface to be recycled over and over again. While some impact structures here have lasted for a very long time, many are simply eroded away, and the resulting sediments are redeposited elsewhere to form new rock.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar