MESSENGER’s First Picture In Orbit

I had recently wrote about MESSENGER entering Mercury’s orbit.This morning at 5:20 am (as I was just crawling out of my bed to go to work) EDT, MESSENGER captured a historic image of Mercury. It’s the first image obtained from the spacecraft that is now in orbit around the solar systems innermost planet. The next 6 hours it had taken an additional 363 images before finally downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is looking over the newly returned data as I type this, and more images are still being transferred from the space craft to the team.

Tomorrow, March 30th, at 2pm EDT, you can attend the NASA Media Teleconference to view more images from MESSENGER’s first look at Mercury from it’s orbit.

In this picture is the crater Debussy and Matabei. Debussy is in the upper portion of the picture and Matabei is to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this picture is towards Mercury’s south pole; it also includes a region of Mercury that has not been previously seen by spacecraft.

This image is of the crater Debussy and is magnified to see it better. This image was taken October 6, 2008 as MESSENGER’s second flyby of Mercury. Debussy has a diameter of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and has prominent rays which extend hundreds of kilomerts across the planet. Debussy didn’t have a name other than “feature A” until March of 2010. It’s extensive system of rays make it a bright feature by both visual and radar wavelengths, and it was identified from early Earth-based radar observations long before any images from spacecrafts had been collected. Debussy crater is named in honor of Claude Debussy (1862-1918), a French composer. If you haven’t heard him, neither have I until tonight, this is a great song Claire Debussy – Clair de Lune

Here is an image of Matabei also taken by MESSENGER’s second Mercury flyby; the image was acquired October 6th 2008. This crater was formed by a meteoroid strike that caused material from the target area to eject outward at a high velocity. In this image you can see a set of dark rays emanating from the small crater of Matabei. These dark rays are a bit rare on Mercury and hopefully color images of MESSENGER’s orbital mission phase will be used to explore further into the nature of these dark rays. The brighter/lightes rays are characteristics of freshly impacted rock; meaning they are younger than Mercury’s surface.

Over the next 3 days MESSENGER will capture 1185 more images. A year-long primary science phase of the MESSENGER mission will begin on April 4th, and the orbital observation plan calls for Mercury Dual Imageing System (MDIS) to collect more than 75,000 images to support MESSENGER’s science goals.

In the one-year primary mission the spacecraft will unravel the history and the evolution of our innermost planet using it’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation. If you would like to read more about MESSENGER and it’s mission go to the MESSENGER page. Also visit the “Why Mercury” section of the MESSENGER page to learn more about the science questions that it has been set out to answer.