Why, Mercury, you’re so colorful! And, and, there’s four of you! Wait, I thought there were only 8 planets in the solar system. Or was that dwarves?

The colorful composite images of Mercury aren’t actually the result of NASA’s experiments with mind-altering substances: it’s what happens if you overlay spectral data about Mercury’s surface, collected with the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS), with monochrome images captured by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft.


MASCS uses spectrometers operating in the infrared and visual spectrums to gain data on the minerals on Mercury’s surface. NASA’s scientists have visualized those invisible wavelengths as blue, green and red light, producing the multicolored images you see above.

MESSENGER’s historic mission to Mercury is set to come to an end this month: after four years of orbit, it’s running out of fuel and can no longer combat the Sun’s push. This is a pretty good legacy to leave. [NASA]

Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


Contact the author at chris@gizmodo.com.