In a good top view image of Highly Ordered
Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) you will see a pattern consisting of white, grey and
black spots. To interpret the image correctly: the bright spots mean higher
tunneling current and dark spots mean low current.
Figure 1. STM image of Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite, 2x2nm
Out of the lattice model of graphite one can
see that there are two different positions of the carbon atoms in the graphite
crystal lattice (see e.g. R.C. Tatar et al. Phys Rev B 25 (1982)
Figure 2. Illustration of the carbon atom position
One with a neighbouring atom in the plane
below (grey) and one without a neighbour in the lattice below (white).
Consequently the electrical conductivity of the graphite surface varies locally
slightly (different electronic density of states) so that the atoms without
neighbours appear "higher" than the others (see e.g. I.P. Batra et al. Surf Sci
181 (1987) 126). This also causes the lattice constant between the bright
'hills' to have the higher value of 0.25nm than the nearest neighbour distance
in the graphite lattice of 0.14nm.
Figure 3. Out of the lattice model of graphite