If you haven’t seen this before, you’re probably not alone. It’s a video made from a series of several hundred images acquired by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft as it swung past Earth, departing forever on its journey to Mercury on August 2, 2005 — just a day shy of one year after its launch. Many blogs that are around today didn’t exist then (including Lights in the Dark!) and so there’s probably lots of people who haven’t had a chance to watch this.
I suggest you check it out. It’s very cool.
On August 3, 2004, MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry and Ranging) launched on a mission to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury. A year after launch it swung around our planet and headed toward Venus, using its gravity as a slingshot to carry it the rest of the way to Mercury. After several flybys MESSENGER successfully entered orbit around our solar system’s innermost planet on March 17, 2011, and, after completing its first year-long mission’s objectives, is now in an extended mission to continue studying Mercury.
“Our small spacecraft has been a hardy traveler,” said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon. “Across billions of miles, during more than 1,000 orbits about the planet with the greatest extremes in surface temperature, and in the face of streams of energetic particles from an increasingly active Sun, MESSENGER has continued to surpass expectations. Mercury, too, has continued to surprise the scientific community, and the MESSENGER team looks forward to learning more about one of the nearest yet least studied worlds.”
To date MESSENGER has returned over 125,000 images of Mercury, successfully mapping 98% of the planet’s surface. (Update: now 100% of Mercury’s surface is mapped!)
See some of my favorite MESSENGER images of Mercury’s surface here.
Video: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified façade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.”
— Michael Collins