New Mercury pics blow scientists' minds
The latest Mercury images from the Messenger spacecraft are creating a stir within the astronomy community. Apparently, some of what scientists had previously thought about the planet turns out to be wrong.
I also love developments like this. It makes a lot of our Earth goings-on seem insignificant, which can be reassuring. Or existential crisis-inducing, however you want to see it.
The Messenger spacecraft that sped past Mercury on Jan. 14 sent back pictures of a geological formation never seen before in the solar system: a central depression with more than 100 narrow troughs radiating out from it.
Called "The Spider" by scientists analyzing the trove of images and data coming back from Messenger, the puzzling feature is the kind of surprise that researchers live for.
"Messenger has sent back data near perfectly, and some of it confirms earlier understandings, and some of it tells us something brand-new," said principal investigator Sean C. Solomon. "The Spider is definitely in the category of something we never imagined we'd find."
Scientists were also surprised by evidence of ancient volcanoes on many parts of the planet's surface and how different it looks compared with the moon, which is about the same size. Unlike the moon, Mercury has huge cliffs, as well as formations snaking hundreds of miles that indicate patterns of fault activity from Mercury's earliest days, more than 4 billion years ago.
"It was not the planet we expected," said Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "It's a very dynamic planet with an awful lot going on."