In November 1964 NASA launched Mariner 4, the fourth of its ambitious series of robotic explorations of our three inner planet neighbors. Mariner 1 was lost during launch; Mariner 2 successfully flew past Venus; Mariner 3 failed to deploy; but on July 14–15, 1965, the 575-lb Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to fly past Mars and capture close-up images of another planet from space.
Of course the pictures that Mariner 4 captured were in greyscale and not like the beautiful color views we are used to seeing from spacecraft today. But thanks to one creative scientist at NASA (and a box of crayons) our first scenes of Mars from space were in brilliant color.
Today NASA released an amazing image of Earth taken from the Moon — specifically from lunar orbit by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying our Moon since the summer of 2009. In it our planet appears as an incredibly bright blue globe with swashes of white clouds and Africa and northeastern South America clearly visible beyond the rolling grey hills of the Moon. It’s so clear and perfect it almost doesn’t look real — so is it?
Why yes. Yes it is. (But of course there was a little help needed from the LROC imaging teams at Arizona State University and Goddard Space Flight Center!)
At 3:34 p.m. EDT (19:34 UTC) today, April 30, 2015, after more than ten years in space – and four of them in orbit – the MESSENGER spacecraft’s operational life came to a conclusive end when it impacted the surface of Mercury, as planned.
After revealing the surface of the innermost planet like no mission ever before, MESSENGER’s last act was to contribute one more crater to Mercury’s battered and Sun-scoured face.
The impact site was out of view (and thus out of communication range) of Earth at the time, but based on the spacecraft’s trajectory and time when its signal was last received it’s known that it very likely struck a low ridge just north of a basin named Shakespeare, near 54.5 degrees north latitude and 210.1 degrees east longitude.
Colliding at a velocity of 8,700 mph, MESSENGER’s impact is estimated to have made a crater about 52 feet (16 meters) across.
“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The MESSENGER mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission – analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury.”
See MESSENGER’s very last transmitted image below.
NASA’s Curiosity rover takes a peek at a peak — the central peak of Gale Crater, that is! — as well as three of its Morse-code etched wheels in this picture, made from two images acquired with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on September 9.
This radar image of 1300-foot-wide (400 meter) asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011, at 11:45 a.m. PST (2:45 p.m. EST/1945 UTC), when the space rock was at 3.6 lunar distances, which is about 860,000 miles, or 1.38 million kilometers, from Earth.
This asteroid will pass by Earth tomorrow at 6:28 pm EST, coming within 85% of the distance to the Moon. It’s the closest such pass of an object this large since 1976.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech