NASA released on Wednesday more of the first images of Mercury taken by a spacecraft orbiting the planet, including the first color closeups depicting it in all its pock-marked glory.
The images were taken by NASA's Messenger spacecraft, the first mission to orbit the planet closest to the sun, according to Messenger's website. Mercury has been seen up close before in fly-bys, but this mission marks the first complete long view reconnaissance of the planet’s geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment.
The mission also allows NASA and its partner, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, an opportunity to show off Messenger's impressive Mercury Dual Imaging System, which has two cameras: the Narrow Angle Camera and the Wide Angle Camera, NASA said.
The first image acquired by Messenger, which was released Tuesday, was part of an eight-image sequence for which images were acquired through eight of the wide angle camera's 11 filters. A color version of that first imaged terrain, pocked with craters, was obtained through the filters and displayed in red, green, and blue, respectively, NASA said.
Over the next two days, Messenger will acquire more than 1,000 additional images in support of a phase to review spacecraft and instrument performance. The yearlong primary science phase of the mission will begin on April 4, during which it is expected to acquire more than 75,000 images.
The Messenger spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after fly-bys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, started its historic orbit around Mercury on March 17.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the Messenger spacecraft and manages the Discovery-class mission for NASA. Messenger is an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.