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First portraits of Mercury from orbit

MESSENGER spacecraft to capture more than 1,500 images in three days

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5:04pm, March 30, 2011

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has returned the first images ever taken by a probe orbiting Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet. Recorded on March 29, the historic closeups show parts of the south and north polar terrain never before viewed by a spacecraft. NASA released the first image taken from orbit on March 29 and several others on March 30.

Some of the new portraits show a surprisingly high number of secondary craters, small pockmarks generated when material excavated by the formation of a larger crater falls back on the surface.

The craft’s cameras will have acquired and sent more than 1,500 images to Earth by March 31. “That’s the barest hint of what we’ll have on a regular basis,” said MESSENGER lead scientist Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. By the end of the mission in March 2012, the craft will have taken some 75,000 images that scientists will assemble into a global mosaic of Mercury.

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