First image of Mercury from orbit released
March 29th, 2011
10:57 PM ET

First image of Mercury from orbit released

NASA released an image of the planet Mercury on Tuesday, the first obtained from a spacecraft orbiting the solar system's innermost planet.

The image is the first of many expected to come from the Messenger probe, the first space mission to orbit the planet closest to the sun. The Messenger spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, started its historic orbit around Mercury on March 17.

The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy, according to NASA. The smaller crater, Matabei, with its dark rays, is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of the full image, which can be seen here,  is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft.

Over the next three days, Messenger will acquire 1,185 more 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 Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the Messenger spacecraft and manages the Discovery-class mission for NASA. Messenger stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.

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soundoff (582 Responses)
  1. Peter E

    Messenger mission cost: $430 million. Conclusion of budget 'conservatives': waste of money.
    A single manned shuttle mission cost: $450 million. Conclusion by 'conservatives': don't you dare cut manned missions!
    Iraq war ONGOING cost: $12 BILLION every month! (and that's just monetary cost. It doesn't include the human sacrifices and never-ending political fallout) Conclusion by 'conservatives': that was 'necessary' and we cannot draw down troop levels! Not yet! Not ever!

    March 30, 2011 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Prometheus

    I am no astronomer, but I find it kind of surprising that our inner-most planet is so pock-marked by impacts. I would have expected it to be quite smooth being so close to the Sun. Makes me wonder how we, the 3rd planet do not REGULARLY get hit by things that would ruin our day.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Mercury gets hit about as often than we do, it just doesn't have the atmosphere to erase the evidence.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
    • runner305

      Our atmosphere burns up most of the meteors before they have a chance to impact us. Mercury has no atmosphere, so that's why Mercury needs ProActive

      March 30, 2011 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Lesswire

      The reason why the Earth has fewer craters is because the Earth is geologically active – the crust is being constantly recycled by the movement of the tectonic plates. There is also the effect of wind, rivers, and even life which overtime cause craters to become hard to be detected.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Earth did regularly get hit. The surface was sterilized many times over from large impacts. Just look at the moon (especially the far side). Earth once looked like Mercury does. It has been a few billion years since the last big bombardment, and weather has all but erased the craters now.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dr.Tong

    Mankind is doomed unless he moves beyond the thin film of atmosphere in which he dwells on Earth.

    The solar system is our immediate environment.

    Not that you Neanderthals would understand that.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
    • JT

      oh but were not doomed if we move to mercury or mars? um, i think we can count on doom eventually irrespective of our locale

      March 30, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Tomi

      I totally agree. Above and beyoooooooond. One day we'll make it, and people will have the option of leaving these cry babies behind.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • krozareq

      Other Solar System bodies are not habitable to humans. Nothing is going to change that. A Genesis Device will remain science fiction because the steps to go from barren to Earth-like are very long ones. Plus, if we have the technology to do that to other bodies in the Solar System, then we have more than enough technology to save our own planet do we not? No matter how bad we make Earth, it's never going to be as bad as Mars, Venus, or a Jovian satellite. This is why we must protect ourselves here. It's not about protecting the Earth. the Earth will live on with or without us and in millions of years all that will remain of us are a few fossils.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      I think you underestimate how powerful of a parasite the human race is. I think we will manage to destroy and outlive this planet and eventually we will find the technology to infect another host planet.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr.Tong

      Human consciousness must evolve beyond the Earth-bound mentality if Mankind is to develop fully. We must expand our space beyond the 5 or so miles of habitable atmosphere in which we now exist. Human physical presence throughout the solar system must also be accomplished, with permanent bases on the moon and on Mars. Those who do not see the necessity of this are backward souls.

      March 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Beast

    I too was surprised by the overwhelming number of craters on the surface. Some of them massive in size and destructive power. Are the meteors somehow attracted to it because of the suns closeness? Sure looks like any of those would be a global killer if they were to hit Earth.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Yngve

      One theory is that since there is no significant atmospere to erode these craters, some of them may be more than 3 billion years old.

      March 30, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      3 billion years old? can you be more specific with a date please.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Zaphod

      Three billion years ago......last Thursday........14:37 GMT.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • DeanJ326

      Mercury, like our Moon, has more visible craters than planets like Earth or Mars because it doesn't have an appreciable atmosphere. Asteroids make it all the way to Mercury's surface rather than burn up in an atmosphere like they do here on Earth.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      The rocks that made those big craters wouldn't care if there was an atmosphere or not. They'd punch right through. The atmosphere will only stop small objects. Weathering is the key. A billion years of wind, rain and earthquakes will erase everything on the surface.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tarran

    The place look zerg infested...and the one in the center look like an overgrown overmind.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. IDon

    Meaningless BS and a total waste of time & money!!!

    March 30, 2011 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Tomi

      your parents feeding you was a total waste of money. Your father should have just uppercutted your mother and be done with worthless trash like you from the beginning. Small minds = small world. Choke on it.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  7. xethian

    Maybe it is in color.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. paradox

    if we ever get to the point where we could analize a reflection of the planet earth from some unknown phenomenon in space from another galaxy 66 million lyrs away would we see dinosaurs?

    March 30, 2011 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
    • DeanJ326

      No. You would have to go to a galaxy 66M light years away to do that and it would take, at least, 66M years to get there. You would see Earth as it is now.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. JS

    Yeah, sure. Somebody from NASA stepped outside, dropped an egg on the sidewalk and took a grainy picture. Big deal. Scammers.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. Major Tom

    It's faked, just like those lunar landings.........

    March 30, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. JS

    Today, they'll drop a potato on the sidewalk and they'll have the first images of Neptune

    March 30, 2011 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. Greasy Pickle

    I swear that is Osama Bin Laden in the the 43rd crater to the left of the Debussy. Talk about an extremist !!!!

    March 30, 2011 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
  13. PARROT


    March 30, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
  14. J Johnson

    I think it is a shame all the erroneous comments on here. Though you may not like what you see, or think you have some sort of insight to how government funding should be spent, that is exercised through the vote. Did you vote in your last lolcal, state, or federal election?

    The image: does look the a lot like the moon, but it is more interesting we have a craft orbiting a planet ast temps that typically melt items.

    Enjoy the photo. Get your 15 seconds of fame somewhere else. Act like you want your children do...

    March 30, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  15. Klendathu

    Should we send another asteroid to hit one of your cities, like we did to Buenos Aries? It would make us very happy. We are preparing for war as we speak!

    March 30, 2011 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
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