Color of Mercury

by Fraser Cain on April 29, 2008

True color image of Mercury (MESSENGER)


Unlike all of the other planets in the Solar System, Mercury is just bare rock. It does have a tenuous atmosphere, but ground and space-based observations see just the gray rocky color of Mercury. This gray color comes from Mercury’s molten surface that cooled and hardened billions of years ago after the formation of the Solar System.

There are no active tectonic or erosion processes happening on the surface of Mercury; it has remained unchanged for billions of years, reshaped only by the occasional meteorite impact. In the past, some of the basins were filled in by magma that flowed out of the planet when it still had an active geologic cycle. Geologists are fairly certain that there are no active volcanoes on Mercury any more, but it’s possible that there could still be the occasional lava flow. Fresh lava flows would appear as a different color on the surface of Mercury. Perhaps when NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft enters orbit around Mercury, we’ll get a better idea of its colors. Certainly we’ll know more about its surface geology.

The photograph attached to this article provides one of the best true-color images of Mercury that we have. If you could fly over Mercury in your spacecraft, this is essentially what you’d see. The planet Mercury color is a dark gray surface, broken up by craters large and small. The color of Mercury’s surface is just textures of gray, with the occasional lighter patch, such as the newly discovered formation of crater and trenches that planetary geologists have named “The Spider”.

Mercury’s coloring is very similar to the Earth’s moon. In fact, when you’re looking at images of both objects, it’s very difficult to tell the two objects apart. Unlike the Moon, however, Mercury lacks the darker areas, or “seas”, that were created on the Moon by lava flows. Mercury’s color doesn’t have the variety that even the Moon has.

If you got here not asking what color is Mercury the planet, but what color is Mercury (the element), it’s silver, and a liquid at room temperature.

We have written many stories about Mercury here on Universe Today. Here’s an article about a side of Mercury never before seen by spacecraft, and here’s a story about the color of Mercury captured by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft during a recent flyby.

If you’d like more information on Mercury, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide, and here’s a link to NASA’s MESSENGER Misson Page.

We have also recorded a whole episode of Astronomy Cast that’s just about planet Mercury. Listen to it here, Episode 49: Mercury.

Reference:
New Science Findings From Messenger’s Third Mercury Flyby
NASA Science: Surprises from Mercury
NASA Solar System Exploration

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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