Mercury definitely isn’t at the top of planets for humans to visit. But if we ever do decide to visit, a topographic map will come in handy. The USGS, along with Arizona State University, Carnegie Institute of Washington, John Hopkins and NASA, released the first topographic map of Mercury.
Scientists took enormous amounts of data from NASA’s MESSENGER mission to create the intricately detailed map. MESSENGER reached the closest planet to the sun back in 2011. It circled Mercury 4,104 times over a four-year span before slamming into the planet’s surface at 8,750 miles per hour on April 30, 2015.
The first and last images of Mercury captured by MESSENGER.
“The creation of this map is a prime example of the utility and beauty that can come out of overcoming complex cartographic problems,” said Lazlo Kestay, USGS Astrogeology Science Center Director. “This highly aesthetic product literally provides a whole new dimension to the study of Mercury images, opening many new paths to understanding the surface, interior, and past of the closest planet to the sun.”
Piecing the thousands of images together was one of the biggest challenges facing scientists when creating this map. The sun’s position and the angle the spacecraft captured images led to huge swings in the brightness levels of images. Scientists had to develop new software programs to help solve these problems and create the topographic map we see today.
USGS scientists believe the techniques used here could work on other bodies ranging from small asteroids to planets.
Create a globe of another world
From Venus to Io, the USGS Astrogeology Science Center offers prints for you to make your own 12-inch globe.
Besides the globe prints, the USGS has also created topographic maps of the Moon and Mars.
The Moon map shows elevations ranging from 8200 meters to -9900 meters.
The Mars map shows just how high the volcanoes of Olympus Mons and Tharsis Montes rise above the rest of the Martian surface. Olympus Mons isn’t just tall (16 miles), it’s massive. Here’s how it looks compared to Arizona.