A Tale Of One Crater

Dickens Crater

(Dickens crater as imaged from the Messenger spacecraft / Image Source: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Charles Dickens was the acclaimed English novelist who brought the world such classics as ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘David Copperfield’, among others (another is alluded to in the title of this post, but you knew that). Widely considered the greatest Victorian period author, he has been honored in many ways throughout the past century-and-a-half.

Dickens might have come to expect many of the honors he received, and those dedicated posthumously, but one that I don’t suspect he ever looked forward to was having a crater on the planet Mercury named after him. Nearly all Mercurian craters are named after artists; writers, painters, composers, etc. Naturally, Dickens wouldn’t be excluded.

The name of the 78km-diameter crater, Dickens, was approved by the International Astronomical Union in 1976, which appears to be the first year they began the unique naming program. (For your general interest, recent “inductees” are a couple of my favorite writers, Khalil Gibran and Rudyard Kipling; having their surnames assigned to craters in 2009 and 2010, respectively.)

For a full list of the currently-291 named Mercurian craters, check out this list.

First Ever Image From Orbit Of Mercury

Following insertion into Mercury’s orbit on March 17, Messenger has finally sent home the first images ever recorded from within the orbit of our innermost planet.

You’ll want to click this image for the full-size version:

First image ever captured from within the orbit of Mercury

First image ever captured from within the orbit of Mercury / Source: Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Early this morning, at 5:20 am EDT, MESSENGER captured this historic image of Mercury. This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System’s innermost planet. Over the subsequent six hours, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down. Tomorrow, March 30, at 2 pm EDT, attend the NASA media telecon to view more images from MESSENGER’s first look at Mercury from orbit.

Currently, Messenger is the commissioning phase of the mission and is testing out its various equipment and instruments. In a few days, it will begin its year-long primary mission which will answer questions about the formation and composition of the smallest and innermost planet in our solar system.

NASA Messenger Makes History Today

Artist depiction of the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury.

Artist depiction of the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury. / Source: NASA / JHU/APL

Today, at about 4:45 AKDT (8:45 EST), NASA’s Messenger will become the first spacecraft to enter Mercury’s orbit. Messenger launched on August 3, 2004 and will undertake a plethora of scientific tasks, including studying the chemical composition, geology and magnetic field of Mercury. It should increase our understanding of Mercury’s geological history, investigate the presence of a liquid outer core, and determine why Mercury’s Northern and Southern poles are highly-reflective to radar (the hypothesis is ice!).

NASA will broadcast a live webcast of the event: http://mfile.akamai.com/7111/live/reflector:22179.asx?bkup=22194 (streaming media link) beginning at 8:457:55pm EST.

The first few days in orbit, the orbital commissioning phase, will focus on ensuring that the spacecraft systems are all working well in the harsh thermal environment of orbit. By March 24, Messenger’s instruments will be activated and checked out, with the science portion of the mission commencing on April 4.

For more information about the mission:

NASA Messenger Mission Page
Ice on Mercury
Messenger Page -Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory