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.