Washington, Jun 17: NASA scientists on Thursday released the latest data on Mercury as they continue to re-write theories about the Earth's nearest planets.
Data from Messenger, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, is flooding into research centres and giving scientists important clues to the origin of Mercury and its geological history.
Tens of thousands of photographs show details of planetary features.
As described in a NASA news conference in Washington on Thursday, the pictures give stunning views of the surface of the smallest planet.
Previous images of Mercury came from flybys by satellites on their way toward the Sun and beyond.
Spacecraft Messenger has also collected extensive measurements of the chemical composition of Mercury's surface.
Flyby images of Mercury had detected bright, patchy deposits on some crater floors.
High resolution detailed images provided by Messenger have revealed these patchy deposits to be clusters of rimless, irregular pits varying in size from several hundred feet to a few miles wide.
These pits are often surrounded by diffuse halos of more reflective material and are found on central peaks, peak rings, and rims of craters.
Previous missions past Mercury showed deposits through to consist of water ice and perhaps other ices near Mercury's north and south poles.
Messenger is testing crater depth to determine if the water ice is consistent with ice found in other permanently shadowed areas.
The spacecraft was designed and built by Applied Physics Lab (APL).
The lab manages and operates the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington.
The mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed for SMD by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. AP