Dr Blewett and his colleagues are in the process
of asking for a mission extension

15 February 2013 Last updated at 19:47 ET

Mercury shows off its colourful side

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News, Boston

Scientists working on Nasa’s Messenger probe to Mercury have shown off a stunning new colour map of the planet.

It comprises thousands of images acquired by the spacecraft during its first year in orbit.

This is not how we would see Mercury, which would look like a dull, brownish-grey globe to our eyes.

Rather, the map represents an exaggerated view of the planet that is intended to highlight variations in the composition of its rock.

“Messenger’s camera has filters that go from the blue to the near-infrared of the spectrum, and we are able to use computer processing to enhance the very subtle but real colour differences that are present on Mercury’s surface,” explained Dr David Blewett from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

“The areas that you see that are orange – those are volcanic plains. There are some areas that are deep blue that are richer in an opaque mineral which is somewhat mysterious – we don’t really know what that is yet.

“And then you see beautiful light-blue streaks across Mercury’s surface. Those are crater rays formed in impacts when fresh, ground-up rock is strewn across the surface of the planet,” the mission scientist told BBC News.

Read more: BBC News – Mercury shows off its colourful side.

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