It’s been over two months since the MESSENGER spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Mercury, back on March 18, and it’s been enthusiastically returning image after image of our solar system’s innermost planet at a unprecedented rate. Which, of course, is just fine with me!
The image above shows Mercury’s southern hemisphere and the bright rays of the 50-km-wide crater Han Kan. It was acquired on May 17, 2011.
Below are more recent images from MESSENGER… some of which show regions and features that have never previously been mapped – or even named!
Click on the images to see more detail on the MESSENGER mission site.
MESSENGER’s orbit about Mercury is highly elliptical, taking it 200 kilometers (124 miles) above its northern surface at the closest pass and 15,193 kilometers (9,420 miles) away from the south pole at furthest. Check out this video showing an animation of how a typical MESSENGER orbit would be executed.
Image credits: Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System’s innermost planet. During the one-year primary mission, MDIS is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images in support of MESSENGER’s science goals.
(Originally posted on Universe Today on May 23)