Mercury Mappers crowdsources the first planet

Be the first to explore the first planet with Planet Mappers: Mercury Edition. Amateurs mapping the surface features of the planet Mercury will help planetary scientists uncover mysteries about the closest planet to the Sun.

Nasa’s Messenger spacecraft arrived in orbit around Mercury in 2011 after an almost seven-year journey. Mariner 10 flew by Mercury in 1974 and 1975 but only observed half the planet. Messenger is the first mission to orbit the planet. Over the past three years the space probe has returned over 200,000 images of Mercury’s surface. The mission’s scientists are trying to solve several mysteries about the planet. Mercury’s iron-rich core comprises around 60% of its mass - twice the proportion of Earth’s core. Mercury and Earth are the only terrestrial planets with global magnetic fields, but Mercury should be too small to have a molten core. Radar exploration of Mercury discovered a thin atmosphere as well as reflective materials - possibly ice - in permanently shadowed polar regions even though the planet orbits so close to the Sun. Messenger will help scientists explore these mysteries and discover new ones. You can learn more on Nasa’s Messenger Mission Site and John Hopkins University's Messenger Science Site.

The Messenger science team wants your help exploring Mercury. The planet’s properties and unique history makes its surface different from the Moon or Mars. Asteroid impacts create craters that look different from craters on the Moon or Mars. There are geological formations on Mercury that don’t exist elsewhere - and there are features that nobody ever suspected. Automated software just can’t handle that much uncertainty. People must look at each image to create the best catalogs. That’s where you come in. You will use Planet Mappers to identify Mercury’s surface features in images sent back from Messenger.

Planet Mapper’s scientists will use the crowdsourced catalog to reconstruct the Mercury’s history of asteroid and meteoroid bombardment. Secondary impacts play a bigger role in that history than on smaller bodies like the Moon. Mercury’s gravitational pull is more than twice as strong as the Moon’s. That makes asteroid impacts more powerful and produces more debris. More of that debris returns to the surface to produce impacts of their own. The Planet Mappers catalog will give the project’s scientists the data they need to compare secondary impacts on the Moon and Mercury lunar and quantify the effect of gravity on secondary crater production.