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Mercury: The View From Orbit

MESSENGER's First Orbital Images of Mercury

30 March 2011
Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.
NASA's MESSENGER is sending back its first images from Mercury, including a first look at terrain near Mercury's north pole. The spacecraft made history on March 18 (March 17 in the U.S.) when it became the first spacecraft to enter orbit at our solar system's innermost planet.

"The entire MESSENGER team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan," says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "The first images from orbit and the first measurements from MESSENGER's other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System's innermost planet has begun." (5 images total):


Color image of Mercury featuring a large, white rayed crater.
The first image acquired by MESSENGER from orbit around Mercury was actually part of an eight-image sequence, for which images were acquired through eight of the WAC's eleven filters. Here we see a color version of that first imaged terrain.


Black and white image showing a close up view of crater's on the surface of Mercury.
his is the first image of Mercury taken from orbit with MESSENGER's Narrow Angle Camera (NAC). MESSENGER's camera system, the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), has two cameras: the Narrow Angle Camera and the Wide Angle Camera (WAC). At 1.5 degrees, the field of view of the NAC is seven times smaller than the 10.5 degree field of view of the WAC.


Two black and white images. The one on the left shots a fresh impact crater surrounded by white material. The one on the right shows plains pockmarked with craters.
The image on the left shows a a beautiful example of a relatively small, simple, fresh impact feature on Mercury. The image on the right has never been seen before. This newly seen terrain shows craters with long shadows, as expected at this high northern latitude.


Black and white image showing the limb of Mercury.
MESSENGER acquired this image of Mercury's horizon as the spacecraft was moving northward along the first orbit during which MDIS was turned on. Bright rays from Hokusai can be seen running north to south in the image. Now that MESSENGER is in orbit about Mercury, views of Mercury's horizon in the images will be much less common. The field of view will generally be filled with Mercury's surface as the instrument maps out the planet's geology in high resolution, stereo, and color

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Last Updated: 30 Mar 2011