Mercury's surface is overall very similar in appearance to that of the Moon, showing extensive mare-like plains and heavy cratering, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Since our knowledge of Mercury's geology has been based on the 1975 Mariner flyby and terrestrial observations, it is the least understood of the terrestrial planets. As data from the recent MESSENGER flyby is processed this knowledge will increase. For example, an unusual crater with radiating troughs has been discovered which scientists are calling "the spider."
Albedo features refer to areas of markedly different reflectivity, as seen by telescopic observation. Mercury also possesses Dorsa (also called "wrinkle-ridges"), Moon-like highlands, Montes (mountains), Planitiae, or plains, Rupes (escarpments), and Valles (valleys).
Mercury was heavily bombarded by comets and asteroids during and shortly following its formation 4.6 billion years ago, as well as during a possibly separate subsequent episode called the late heavy bombardment that came to an end 3.8 billion years ago. During this period of intense crater formation, the planet received impacts over its entire surface, facilitated by the lack of any atmosphere to slow impactors down. During this time the planet was volcanically active; basins such as the Caloris Basin were filled by magma from within the planet, which produced smooth plains similar to the maria found on the Moon.
Data from the October 2008 flyby of MESSENGER gave researchers a greater appreciation for the jumbled nature of Mercury's surface. Mercury's surface is more heterogeneous than either Mars or earth's Moon, both of which contain significant stretches of similar geology, such as maria and plateaus.