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A Change of Perspective: Mercury’s north pole

Posted January 6, 2015

Of Interest: Sometimes, it’s really good to get a change in perspective. The image below provides that for Mercury’s north polar region. The largest crater in the center of the image is Prokofiev, a crater with evidence for ice on its permanently shadowed floor. The yellow regions in many of the craters mark locations that show evidence for water ice, as detected by Earth-based radar observations from Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

This perspective view was created by projecting the region as if it were being viewed from 16ºN, 40ºE (the projection center latitude and longitude listed above). While perspective view is interesting for visualization of the region, it is also entirely impossible in reality. Just above Prokofiev in the image is the location of Mercury’s north pole. Mercury’s entire north polar region is never completely sunlit, as shown in this view. Mercury’s axial tilt is very small, so half of the polar region is always in shadow. This very small axial tilt is also responsible for the large regions of permanent shadow that can host ice on the Solar System’s innermost planet!

The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’sseven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System’s innermost planet. In the mission’s more than three years of orbital operations, MESSENGER has acquired over 250,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is capable of continuing orbital operations until early 2015.

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