Sometimes, it's really good to get a change in perspective. Today's image provides that for Mercury's north polar region. The largest crater in the center of the image is Prokofiev, a crater with evidence for ice on its permanently shadowed floor. The yellow regions in many of the craters mark locations that show evidence for water ice, as detected by Earth-based radar observations from Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
This perspective view was created by projecting the region as if it were being viewed from 16°N, 40°E (the projection center latitude and longitude listed above). While perspective view is interesting for visualization of the region, it is also entirely impossible in reality. Just above Prokofiev in the image is the location of Mercury's north pole. Mercury's entire north polar region is never completely sunlit, as shown in this view. Mercury's axial tilt is very small, so half of the polar region is always in shadow. This very small axial tilt is also responsible for the large regions of permanent shadow that can host ice on the Solar System's innermost planet!
Instrument: Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
Arecibo Radar Image: In yellow (Harmon et al., 2011, Icarus 211, 37-50)
Map Projection: Orthographic
Map Projection Center Latitude: 16°
Map Projection Center Longitude: 40° E
Scale: Prokofiev has a diameter of 112 km (70 miles)
Prokofiev Center Latitude: 85.77°
Prokofiev Center Longitude: 62.92° E
The MESSENGER spacecraft is 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. During the first two years of orbital operations, MESSENGER acquired over 150,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is capable of continuing orbital operations until early 2015.
For information regarding the use of images, see the MESSENGER image use policy.