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The innermost planet of our solar system remained an enigma until very recently. Mercury orbits the Sun in just 88 days, never spending more than a week or two in view after sunset or before sunrise, and the planet's proximity to the Sun challenged telescopic observers for centuries. But during its mission, which ended in 2015, the NASA spacecraft Messenger revealed a unique world with a complex history. This globe combines data from 18,000 Messenger images, specially processed to preserve the natural light and dark shading of the Mercurian surface. More than 350 craters and other features are labeled on the globe, including names of well-known painters, composers, and writers. Place Mercury, the Roman messenger to the gods, on your desk!
Mercury’s surface is all about the names of its features! What’s more fun than looking for your favorite composer, painter, sculptor, or writer immortalized on a surface feature? You can’t miss Rembrandt or Debussy or Hokusai — the craters bearing their names are colossal. Look just north of the equator for the name of a beloved literary and historic figure: Thoreau. Explore further, and you’ll find Rilke, Ovid, and Disney? (Yes, there’s a crater named for old Walt.) They’re a bit more challenging to find. I always have to look just north of the equator for the name of my favorite literary and historic figure: Thoreau.
Did You Know? During the 1990s, by probing Mercury from afar with powerful radar telescopes here on Earth, researchers discovered that there’s ice inside craters at the planet’s north and south poles! Despite the extreme heat elsewhere on the planet, these craters are never exposed to sunlight — creating permanent shadows cold enough for water ice to be stable.