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 / 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.
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
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