Two overlapping views of Mercury. The first, on the left side of the frame shows the planet – with two-thirds of its right side lit up by sunlight – in gray, with very slight color variations, including the occasional beige tint to the gray, and bright, silvery white rays spreading across the ground, emanating from about a half-dozen craters. It’s partially covering the other view of Mercury against the black backdrop of space, behind and to the right of the first planet image. This is similarly lit, its right side two-thirds bathed in sunlight, but the surface is a riot of colors – yellows and oranges capping the north and south poles, craters appearing as bright golden yellow accented in turquoise rings and lines, vivid navy and electric blue covering much of the planet’s upper left and lower right quadrants, while an underlying smear of mauve covers the lower left to upper right.

Mercury in Color!

NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft captured the image at left, an approximation of Mercury’s true color as might be seen by the human eye, on Oct. 6, 2008. MESSENGER’s camera suite, the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), had 11 narrow-band spectral filters covering visible and near-infrared wavelengths (400 to 1050 nanometers). The specific colors of the filters were selected to discriminate among common minerals. The true-color view combined three color images (480 nm, 560 nm, 630 nm), showing that color differences on the surface are slight. The exaggerated color view at right uses all 11 filters in the visible and near-infrared, to highlight subtle color differences and aid geologists in mapping regions of different composition. The nature of color boundaries, color trends, and brightness values help MESSENGER geologists understand the discrete regions (or “units”) on the surface.

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