First shot of Mercury from orbit

MESSENGER has radioed to Earth a new look at the first rock from the sun

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has returned the first image of Mercury ever taken by a probe orbiting the solar system’s innermost planet. The image, recorded early on March 29 by MESSENGER’s wide-angle camera and released later that day, shows two craters as well as a part of Mercury’s south polar terrain not previously imaged by any craft. The image resolves features as small as about 5 kilometers across.

A few of the other 363 images taken by MESSENGER on March 29 will be unveiled at a NASA press briefing set for March 30.

On March 17, MESSENGER became the first craft to orbit Mercury (SN Online: 3/17/11). The craft’s year-long mission to explore the gravity, magnetic field, atmosphere, surface composition and interior of the tiniest and least-explored planet in the solar system formally begins on April 4.

HOT SHOT The first image of Mercury ever taken from an orbiting craft shows the large rayed crater Debussy (upper portion of photo) and a smaller crater called Matabei. The lower part of the image shows part of Mercury’s south polar region not previously seen by any craft. NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science

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