Mercury’s North Pole

Temperature map of Mercury's north polar region. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Temperature map of Mercury’s north polar region. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Here’s an orthographic look at the north polar region from the Messenger spacecraft. The view is colored by the maximum biannual surface temperature. The temperature ranges from over 400 K / 127 C / 260 F for the red colors down to 50 K / -223 C /-370 F for the purple colors. Temperatures on Mercury do exceed 350 C / 660 F in places.

The largest crater shown is called Prokofiev and it is centered at 85.77 degrees latitude. The interior of the purple colored craters are easily cold enough for water ice to be stable – hard to imagine but true.

There is big news coming in the Messenger mission. The spacecraft is orbiting closer and closer to the surface of the planet being boosted by thrusters when necessary. One orbit brought Messenger to within 11.6 km / 7.2 miles of the surface of Mercury. The Thrusters increased the speed of the spacecraft by 3.07 meters per second or 6.87 miles per hour and increased the minimum close-approach altitude of 34 km / 21.4 miles.

The problem is the propellant is about gone and this means the Messenger spacecraft will end its mission by crashing into the surface of Mercury. There is another thruster maneuver on 02 April, this will probably be the last such event. Messenger is expected to impact the surface of Mercury later in April, May at the latest.

Europe will visit the inner-most planet with the launch of BepiColumbo in 2016 and a trip of 7 years.

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