Scientists make wild find on Mercury

A team of researchers recently found a previously unknown large valley in Mercury's southern hemisphere.

It extends roughly 620 miles, measures approximately 250 miles across, and has an estimated depth of about 2 miles.

Not only is the feature among the largest of its kind on Mercury, it's one of the newer developments.

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NASA Messenger Mercury
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NASA Messenger Mercury

A view of the planet Mercury from the MESSENGER spacecraft, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Ten years ago, on August 3, 2004, NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a risky mission that would take the small satellite dangerously close to Mercury’s surface, paving the way for an ambitious study of the planet closest to the Sun. (Photo via NASA)
A solar flare erupted on the far side of the sun on June 4, 2011, and sent solar neutrons out into space. (Photo via NASA/STEREO/Helioviewer)

South America and portions of North America and Africa are shown in this false-color image from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, taken on an Aug. 2, 2005 Earth flyby to adjust the spacecraft's path to Mercury. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

This color image, taken on May 1, 2013 by the Wide Angle Camera (WAC) instrument aboard NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting Mercury, features Hovnatanian crater, named for Armenian painter Hakop Hovnatanian. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
This new, high-resolution view of Cunningham crater was recently acquired by MESSENGER. What you can't see in this image, which shows striking details of the crater's interior, is the extensive set of rays associated with Cunningham. The bright rays of Cunningham indicate that the crater is relatively young, having formed on Mercury likely within the last billion years. In this new view, the preserved terraces of the crater walls, the well-defined central peak, and the limited number of overlying small craters are also all signs of Cunningham's relative youth. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics)
This colorful view of Mercury was produced by using images from the color base map imaging campaign during MESSENGER's primary mission. These colors are not what Mercury would look like to the human eye, but rather the colors enhance the chemical, mineralogical, and physical differences between the rocks that make up Mercury's surface. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
The crater at the center of this scene is named for choreographer George Balanchine, as the beautiful swath of diffuse blue ejecta emanating from the crater might remind one of the famous blue tutus in one of Balanchine's most well known ballets, Serenade. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
This image of Mercury, acquired by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard NASA's MESSENGER mission on April 23, 2013, allows us to take a step back to view the planet. Prior to the MESSENGER mission, Mercury's surface was often compared to the surface of Earth's moon, when in fact, Mercury and the moon are very different. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
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Tom Watters, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, notes, "Unlike Earth's Great Rift Valley, Mercury's great valley is not caused by the pulling apart of lithospheric plates due to plate tectonics; it is the result of the global contraction..."

Researchers believe the cooling of the planet's interior triggered contractions and bends to occur in the sole outer crust plate, resulting in rocks moving upward and the valley floor falling.

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