Nebula? No, It’s the Cat’s Eye Crater!

brightly-colored crater
August 8, 2018
CreditNASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
PIA NumberPIA17409
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Centered in this stunning image lies Eminescu crater on the planet Mercury, illuminated by a bright halo of material around its edge. The ends of a ray system emanating from Xiao Zhao are on the right side of the image. Standing in stark contrast with the low reflectance materialwithin the crater (identifiable as the dark regions on the crater's floor) are bright hollows (identifiable as the bright ring near the crater's center).

The image title is in reference to the Cat's Eye Nebula, a well studied, iconic nebula that shares similar features to this image of Eminescu, such as notably the blues, yellows, and spherical shape of the formation.

This image was acquired by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft as a high-resolution targeted color observation. Targeted color observations are images of a small area on Mercury's surface at resolutions higher than the 1-kilometer/pixel 8-color base map. During MESSENGER's one-year primary mission, hundreds of targeted color observations were obtained. During MESSENGER's extended mission, high-resolution targeted color observations are more rare, as the 3-color base map covered Mercury's northern hemisphere with the highest-resolution color images that are possible.

The MESSENGER spacecraft was the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System's innermost planet.