Just 5 meters per pixel: NASA has received ultra-detailed images of Mercury

The rate of formation of craters on the planet depends on the distance to the Sun. And in this regard, to study Mercury

very difficult due to the proximity tostar. Now NASA's MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft, which orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015, has provided the best spatial resolution images to date. as low as 5 meters per pixel in some regions.

Compared to Earth, the surface of mostother solar system objects appear largely static. Planetary scientists have long believed that space rock impacts are the main source of change on these surfaces, and that the rate of such impacts decreases over time. Estimates of the age of virtually every surface outside the Earth and Moon are based on this "cratering rate".

To improve the estimation of the formation ratecraters on Mercury, the authors of the new study examined 58,552 pairs of MESSENGER images. By comparing before and after images, they determined surface changes and calculated an estimated annual rate of change per square kilometer. The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Animation of two images takenspacecraft MESSENGER. Inside the red circle are changes to the surface of Mercury that occurred sometime between June 25, 2012 and June 11, 2013. Credit: NASA

The authors found 20 new structures in the setdata. Of these, 19 are quasi-circular structures ranging in diameter from 400 meters to 1.9 kilometers, one of which is surrounded by radial rays typical of impact craters on Mercury.

Nineteen new impact craters duringfour years of the MESSENGER mission means that the rate of their formation for small impactors is 1,000 times greater than scientists thought. However, the researchers call the data “unrealistic.”

They revised the rate of cratering andput forward an alternative hypothesis instead. Scientists have said many of these surface features are endogenous geological changes. This means that the surface of Mercury is more variable than previously thought.

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Cover photo: View of Mercury's northern volcanic plains.
NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington