Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MESSENGER's new views of Mercury!

The Messenger spacecraft just did a flyby of Mercury and has returned the first of what are sure to be many spectacular images.

In the upper right hand side of the planet, there is a large, roughly circular, lighter toned area. This is the Caloris basin, so named because it is the point on Mercury that faces the sun when the planet is at perihelion. Before this image, the best pictures of Mercury's surface were those taken in 1974 by Mariner 10. The Caloris basin was right on the terminator (the transition between day and night) at that time, so everything to the west of the basin in this new image has never been seen before. Ever. By anyone.

Over the next few days, we should be seeing some more new images as they are sent back to Earth. Messenger will fly by Mercury again on October 6, 2008 and September 29, 2009 before finally settling into orbit around the planet in March of 2011. Once in orbit we will really begin in earnest to learn about this neglected planet.

For more detailed information, check out the Planetary Society Blog and Bad Astronomy.

No comments: