Check out Mercury in all its psychedelic glory.
This colorful image comes courtesy of the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) instrument aboard NASA's Messenger spacecraft. Designed to study both the exosphere and surface of the planet, the Visual and Infrared Spectrometer (VIRS) portion of MASCS has been collecting single tracks of spectral surface measurements since Messenger entered Mercury's orbit on March 17, 2011.
To play up the geological context of these spectral measurements, the MASCS data have been overlain on the monochrome mosaic from the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), an instrument with wide- and narrow-angle cameras to map the rugged landforms and spectral variations on Mercury's surface.
Come Thursday, there will likely be another crater in the planet's pocked surface. That's when Messenger's four-year mission is set to end, and the craft will come out of its orbit and slam into Mercury. The 10-foot-wide spacecraft, according to The Associated Press, will be traveling 8,750 mph (14,081 kph) when it hits, fast enough to carve out a crater 52 feet (16 meters) wide.
The $450 million Messenger mission, whose name is short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging, launched in August 2004. After taking a circuitous route through the inner solar system, Messenger in March 2011 became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.
A few weeks ago, Messenger ran out of fuel. NASA was able to extend its life by conducting a series of engine burns designed to lift the probe's orbit. It managed to keep it going through Thursday when it will be left up to solar gravity to end the mission.
In Messenger's more than four years of orbital operations, it has acquired over 250,000 images and other extensive data sets. The mission has also fascinated star-gazers, including 3,600 who took part in a competition coordinated by the Carnegie Institution for Science to name five craters on the planet.
The names had to be from an artist, composer, or writer who was famous for more than 50 years and has been dead for more than three years. The winning names announced Wednesday go back several centuries, with the most famous name being the Mexican painter Diego Rivera.
Other winning names were Turlough O'Carolan (Carolan) an Irish composer during the 16th and 17th centuries; Enheduanna, an Akkadian princess and poet who lived in the Sumerian city of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Kuwait); Yousuf Karsh, an Armenian-Canadian and one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century and Umm Kulthum, an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress active between the 1920s and 1970s.