Mercurial cartography

Paul Raven @ 17-12-2009

With the cold weather really digging in for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, you may well be thinking of taking a holiday somewhere hot. Courtesy the US Geological Survey, you can now scout out the lay of the land on the hottest destination in the entire solar system, as their near-global maps of the planet Mercury are released to the public.

The map combines new observations from the Messenger spacecraft with earlier images captured by Mariner 10 in the 1970s.

Global Map of Mercury

Messenger completed the last of its three flybys of the planet on September 29th. The release of the map marks a new phase of the mission for the spacecraft, which will now orbit the sun’s innermost planet for a year.

The U.S. Geological Survey built the map from 917 images of variable resolution and lighting conditions, but sophisticated software was able to match up planetary features from different images to create the near seamless mosaic.

Click through on the image above (or here) to download various sized versions of the map – should make a nice wallpaper file, no?

If you don’t fancy Mercury (I’ve heard the food’s terrible, and the cost of bottled water is simply shocking), maybe a brief break in a space station as designed by Paolo Soleri might be more aesthetically appealing [via Tim Maly]? Granted, none of them have ever been built… but you’d have to admit they have a soupçon more je ne sais quoi than the utilitarian grace of the ISS, I’m sure. 😉

Fingerprinting mercury emissions from coal

Tom Marcinko @ 17-10-2008

About 2000 tons of mercury from human-generated sources enter the environment every year, but tracing natural versus human sources, and sorting out local pollutants from distant sources, has been been a problem. University of Michigan scientists say they’ve taken a big step towards reading mercury “fingerprints.”

“For some time, we weren’t sure that it was going to be technically possible, but now we’ve cracked that nut and have shown significant differences not only between mercury from coal and, say, metallic forms of mercury that are used in industry, but also between different coal deposits,” [ecologist Joel] Blum said.

How it works:

The fingerprinting technique relies on a natural phenomenon called isotopic fractionation, in which different isotopes (atoms with different numbers of neutrons) of mercury react to form new compounds at slightly different rates. In one type of isotopic fractionation, mass-dependent fractionation, the differing rates depend on the masses of the isotopes. In mass-independent fractionation, the behavior of the isotopes depends not on their absolute masses but on whether their masses are odd or even. Combining mass-dependent and mass-independent isotope signals, the researchers created a powerful fingerprinting tool.

[Image: Christopher Gruver]

First image of Mercury from Messenger mission transmitted

Tomas Martin @ 16-01-2008

The first images ever of this side of the first planetMessenger, a NASA probe launched towards Mercury, has transmitted the first image of the unseen side of the first planet in our solar system, Mercury. Whilst Mariner 10 did pass Mercury 3 times in the seventies, it never saw this side due to the strange relationship between Mercury’s spin and orbit around the sun. The image is very good quality, with a lighter region in the top right corner believed to be the area of the planet that comes closest to the scorching heat of the sun.

[via Bad Astronomy Blog, picture by NASA]