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DFG Mercury

Digital terrain model from stereo images and laser altimeter profiles from MESSENGER.

Within this project we improve rotational and reference system parameters of the planet Mercury using stereo images and laser altimeter data obtained by the MESSENGER spacecraft. The rotational parameters (including the orientation of the rotational axis in space, the average spin rate, and slight oscillations in spin rate, i.e., librations) will be determined from precisely matching the numerous available laser altimeter range measurements with large-area stereo topographic models using data correlation techniques. Using the improved rotational model, a geometrically precise image map of the planet will be derived, which will be an important tool for planning future missions to Mercury. Rotational parameters also provide constraints on Mercury’s interior structure and the characteristics of its liquid core.

The specific goals of the project are:

  • We will deliver improved estimates for the libration amplitude and obliquity of Mercury including error estimates on the basis of the new MESSENGER data.
  • We will estimate the actual rotation rate of Mercury (at the epoch of the MESSENGER mission), from which in combination with ephemerides of Mercury the amplitude of long-period librations can be assessed.
  • We will assess the implications of our results with respect to models of composition, physical state, and thermal evolution of the planet and discuss compatibility of our models with Mercury’s operating magnetic dynamo and evidence for recent volcanism.
  • We will produce a new base map for Mercury, correctly referenced to the current planet-fixed Mercury coordinate system.
  • We will run simulations for observables obtainable by future missions to Mercury but also other planets/satellites to assess the possible science return by application of the developed method.

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Contact Person

Prof. Jürgen Oberst
+49 30 314-79701
Main Building
Room H 5122