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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Filed under: Space
soundoff (582 Responses)
  1. Jim Bob

    Typical ignorant CNN reporting. The Messenger spacecraft has been taking photos of Mercury for a couple of years now, hundreds. This is the first one from orbit but there are a lot more, even closer images that have been taken on flybys by Messenger in the last couple of years. This is not even as good a photo as a lot of those.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • markus

      ummm, the article states "and after flybys of Earth, Venus and MERCURY, started its historic orbit around Mercury on March 17."

      perhaps because fly-bys of Mercury have already been done in previous decades and the orbiting is the historic part, that's why they chose to focus on it??? maybe?

      March 30, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bob

      Well, DUH, of course that's why they're focusing on this. But they should have made mention of the hundreds of awesome photos already taken by Messenger. They're acting like this was the first one. Get a brain dude.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • PJW

      "Typical ignorant CNN reporting." Agreed in regards to CNN's space articles. (west of Debussy!!) However, if you read the article again, there is no claim of first or best.

      March 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jacques du Skanner

    If that's an image of Mercury, then why is the filename t1larg.messenger.venus.nasa.jpg? Hmmm?

    March 30, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • VoipOfReason

      Well done Inspector. Well done.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian H.

      Hilarious!!! Classic...

      March 30, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Jesus

      Sir, you are so correct! I only wonder...

      March 30, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      That is bizarre, but it can't be Venus. Venus is covered in thick clouds and it's surface cannot be seen.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      LMAO! You're right! TFF!!

      March 30, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Ralf the Dog

      Venus Adams was the scientist at JPL that downloaded the image?

      March 30, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • D9

      Oh, it's so obvious that it's Mercury...even a 3-yr old can see it! Come on...the craters, the desolate landscape, the lack of organic substance...I'm mean what other celestial body could it be?!!

      March 30, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • the satellite tht took the pic

      venus.... underneath the clouds.... explains y its in black and white

      March 30, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • TooManyReruns

      It pretty much goes without saying that it can't be human error or a typo, so I'm not saying it. This furthers the already-plentiful evidence of a Mercury coverup! I forget which conspiracy this is related to, but it is obviously part of one. I'm serious! A conspiracy! Why else would they put all these pictures on a PUBLIC site? Because the REAL pictures are on a PRIVATE site, right? Right? See? Conspiracy! Dang I'm clever according to me.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Moose

      Venus? No. The enlarged image's file name is Clearly this is an image of California.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Because, CNN correspondents can"t tell Venus from a p enis.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Levi

      Lmao! Brilliant!

      March 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • reACTIONary

      The file on the official MESSENGER web site is

      The directory at NASA is probably left over from MESSENGER's Venus fly-by. There were 2 Venus flybys, 3 Mercury flybys and 1 Earth flyby.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LikesToWatch

    So has anyone explained why the impact craters are all nice circles instead of ellipses? Even here on Earth where we have a rich atmosphere we have plentiful examples of oblong-shaped impact craters. How can virtually all of the craters on Mercury be the result of near-perpendicular impacts (my assumption)? There must be a better explanation than vertical impact – perhaps a "sticky" surface?

    March 30, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • VoipOfReason

      The existence of a Hermian atmosphere had been contentious before 1974, although by that time a consensus had formed that Mercury, like the Moon, lacked any substantial atmosphere. This conclusion was confirmed in 1974 when the Mariner 10 spacecraft discovered only a tenuous exosphere. Later, in 2008, improved measurements were obtained by the MESSENGER spacecraft, which discovered magnesium in the Hermian exosphere.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bob

      We have no oblong shaped craters anywhere. Craters are almost alway circular no matter what the angle of the impacting body. It's a natural phenomena, I don't remember the details but it's basic physics, look it up.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. SPC Small

    I believe alot of people reading this article should at least read up on more information regarding our solar system, or more if they wish. The only way we could inhabit another world in our solar system is taraforming, and that technology doesnt exist yet. On top of that it would need to be the same in every aspect to keep life as confortable as possible, as in orbital period, distance from the sun, size and atomosphere.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • scott1607

      You should read up on TERRAforming which is what you are describing. Taraforming more properly refers to converting a planet to a Technicolor Southern Plantation...

      March 30, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      dang scott you beat me to it.... I had such a whittey comment too.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Scott... I thought Taraforming was making the entire population of the planet into clones of Tara Reed.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. Defender

    Perhaps now we will finally discover where all the socks have gone. And yes, this is quite relevant – the world needs its socks back! Besides, this could be the start of a great discovery: a worm hole linking Mercury with millions of driers on Earth!

    March 30, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. wisdomVSknowledge

    Oh Geez, I'm on the same planet with these nuts!

    March 30, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • SDN

      Relax. Stephen Hawking believes that there exist an infinite number of parallel universes, and that that those with black holes constantly lose whatever information they generate. It is in these universe types that the vast majority of bloggers reside. You apparently reside in a universe that lacks black holes, and information is retained. Congratulations, a rare and valuable asset.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      I agree, valuable indeed, like a chocolate covered marshmallow rabbit.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. Nu Yorker

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with exploration...

    That said, there is absolutely something wrong with the American education system. I know, because I am American. How is it that money magically appears for projects of exploration, exploitation, and international emancipation?

    My old high school, paid millions of dollars for cosmetic updates to the building and surrounding area, but cut 3 vocational programs out of the curriculum. I went there to major in Aviation technology. I am 26 now and an underpaid, under appreciated, SECURITY GUARD! At a bank. FML.

    In 50 years there probably won't be a NASA for lack of educated persons to run the program. You state this science is important, I state that we need to focus on the structural integrity of this Nation before we go prancing around the globe and universe, otherwise the fruits of all this labor WILL be short lived...


    March 30, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • kairry

      NASA takes up 0.07% of the national budget. Not even one percent of our national budget. Seriously it 0.07% & look at the research, technology & educational programs they provide with that money!!! I think the public needs to point the finger and vilify other programs for sucking up so much of our national budget for useless and wasteful things.
      And I'm not trying to pick a fight or be mean – but you only have yourself to blame if you're not happy with your job or education. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Read, study & learn on your own. Yes, our education system is awful – but educate yourself through any means available – which are endless! I had to do the same thing so I understand where you're coming from entirely. I finally began educating myself at libraries, online, etc. I truly hope things get better for you & you understand I'm not trying to be mean.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bob

      I would like to see private industry take over space exploration anyway. NASA is just another bureaucracy. People like Burt Rutan are leading the way for the commercial exploitation of space. That will create jobs, tourism, technological advancement and a wealth of scientific knoledge without spening tax dollars. If there's a buck to be made in space, private industry will be all over it.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • reACTIONary

      RE: NASA is just another bureaucracy. People like Burt Rutan are leading the way for the commercial exploitation of space.

      There is nothing wrong with Burt Rutan and his accomplishments, but they are NOTHING compared to NASA's accomplishments in space. There is just NO comparison. You cannot even call what he has done "exploration of space". He isn't even in orbit!!!!

      March 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. stanton


    March 30, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bob

      But we have a very effective population control process. It's call war.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • sanjosemike

      Actually the Iranaians have it all planned: They are getting nuclear weapons to obliterate israel. After that, they plan on getting their Greater Shi'a Caliphate all throughout the World. This would be accomplished (according to their prophcies) by great Shi'a vs. Sunni nuclear wars...and of course a major one with Israel.

      That should solve the World population problem pretty well, don't you think?

      March 30, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      stanton, could you repeat that, I couldn't hear you over all these people.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Yeah, because those extra 3 billion people used up all of the resources and food and everyone starved to death.
      We're all posting from the grave, right?
      Or, perhaps, you are an undereducated dolt.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rocket Scientist

    That's no small feat, putting something in orbit around Mercury... good job.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • SDN

      I'm beginning to wonder where we will find, in the future, persons that will be able to, for example, plot the trajectory for such a feat. Let alone an Earth orbit required to launch a couple thousand more cellphone support communications satellites. Creepy, we've become a one-handed society – one for the phone – the other for all other survival requirements.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Funny, SDN, I tend to NOT use the phone so much and use more face time to accomplish things.
      Far too many don't do that though. Perhaps the solar maximum will take care of some of those extra technological "advantages" for us... 😉

      March 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John B

    Holy cow!!! Why are we still funding the space program when when there is a financial crisis never before seen in our history going on???!!! Why do we give a crap about Mercury? We will never be able to do anything there because it is so close to the sun. And even if we could, it would never happen.

    Of all the government agencies out there, NASA and the space programs are the biggest waste of money, time, people, and natural resources. Think about how much energy is wasted on a mission like this, including fuel to send the satelitte into space, the electrcal energy down here being used to monitor it and all the other equipment that is in use to gather the information. Not to meniton the fact that eventually this billion dollar probe will be floating around in space doing nothing.



    March 30, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • T3chsupport

      They've already pulled the funding for most of it. We can now divert all of the money that we used to use to learn things about our universe, and start blowing up more people with it, or handing it over to corporations that pay not federal taxes to this country.

      You're welcome!

      March 30, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • ireuel

      Why you say because I here they got oil.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      We get a lot of our knowledge about Earth and our solar system from these probes. You're talking about short-term budgetary problems; this is long-term thinking. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the problems with Medicare and Social Security. Really, nice try, but the straw man isn't working.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Sw6blues

      You realize that this mission and the vehicle/spacecraft were funded years ago, probably during Clinton's Administration. And oh by the way, NASA is helping determine our place in the universe, and while the Shuttle program has essentially ended, there will be no mission to Mars...we still have spacecraft in orbit that are doing important scientific work. The Space telescopes, the various probes, etc. Stories like this about space and the solar system also serves to remind us that we are very small and insignificant in the universe. An asteroid could come hurtling out of near space and smash into the earth, creating a Human extinction event. And we might have thought of a way to prevent it, with NASA helping.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • markus

      @T3chsupport- you absolutely right! Thank goodness we've pulled back on this stupid space funding, now we cang et back to what we're really good at, WAR!

      why do i feel in the last decade we've regressed about 35 years? Ignorance, bigotry and blind hatred, along with a gung ho arrogance regarding the military are all making a comeback. Gee, i wonder what political party proudly holds all of those things dear...

      March 30, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Justme_OK

      I so agree!!! But i fear they are not done spending money that we do not have....

      March 30, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • steve harnack

      Why do you think that eliminating the jobs in the space industry would do anyone any benefit. That money spent goes to real people, it doesn't just disappear. Try to carry a thought to its logical conclusion instead of blurting the first thing that comes to mind.

      March 30, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • MarkieMark


      You are absolutely right. I did a bit of research and it's amazing how much the government is wasting on this. A 1999 ( put the cost of the mission at upwards of $300 million. That's 1999 dollars, btw. That cost in 2011 dollars ( runs up to $400 million!! Another source ( I found places the cost even higher, at 427 million american dollars!! This is outrageous.

      It's time this government learns to focus on more important things, like defending our freedom. Take Iraq, for example. Based on what we're spending there (, the money NASA wasted on this mission could have funded our troops' war effort for 1.5 DAYS!!

      (Dear other readers, yes that was ironic, prove/disprove my numbers as you see fit)

      March 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • reACTIONary

      More than 18,000 people work for NASA. Many more people work with the agency as government contractors. It will REALY help the economy to pull the plug on all these people and make them instantly unempolyed! Instead of doing something scientifically interesting, they can start collecting unempolyement insurance and sopping up food stamp funds. Very productive!

      March 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mhesh

    Are those really craters? or did aliens throw rocks at the spacecraft and smashed the windshield

    March 30, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  12. PIMPN Bush

    well, there is nothing there.. no hot and sweaty Mercurians... dear government spend some money on me and my peoples! your people!

    March 30, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Herb

    This rates as a major WHO CARES? Spend all this space money on fixing problems we have down here first!

    March 30, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • wsj

      Right, let's just keep handing money to whiny people who pay almost nothing in and yet live off of government handouts their whole lives.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • reACTIONary

      We are the inheritors and the beneficiaries of the scientific knowledge pioneered by all of the generations that have come before us. It is our responsibility to add to this contribution and pass on more knowledge to future generations.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. homer

    space? boring

    March 30, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. J.A. Murphy

    If we colonize Mars, or anywhere else, among the first to go would be a bunch of fundamentalists whose primary function will be to tell us all we're going to hell if we don't do things their way!

    March 30, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
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