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. ML

    There's no such thing as Black & White digital cameras. Why does NASA only release B&W images to the public, first? Trying to hind something, maybe.. something that is much easier to edit out when the images have been converted to grayscale?

    March 30, 2011 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      This is a color image. That's what Mercury looks like.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
    • ML

      @Steve: And you know that how? I'm calling BS on that. The image is clearly grayscale. I don't care what kind of scientific excuse I hear for it, there is no such thing as digital black & white photography. This image has been edited.. period.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba Gump

      Well of course it's been edited. NASA doesn't exactly just go to Best Buy, get a 12 megapixel camera, duct tape it to a rocket, and send it on its way. They take "color" pictures by using multiple filters and combining the images. There's not much scientific value in straight color images, but using filters such as near infrared can get better contrast of features and provide more scientists with more useful information.

      Although I'm sure they will release color pictures later, MESSENGER is still in a phase of testing out its instruments to make sure they still operate after a 6.5 year flight to Mercury. Plus, Mercury is mostly gray anyway...

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

      First of all, I know that this is probably a color image because I have seen NASA images of Mercury before. This is not the first spacecraft to photograph Mercury after all.

      Second, even if it isn't a color image, to say that there is no such thing as digital black and white photography is total ignorance. CCD detectors (i.e, how digital cameras work) have no color sensitivity at all. They only detect in black and white. In fact, the only reason your camera can take color pictures at all is because the CCD is covered in color filters that allow color information to be interpolated out of the raw data.

      March 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alan

    We rather see pictures of Uranus

    March 30, 2011 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Black Hole

      Uranus does not make a pretty picture

      March 30, 2011 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Venus

    I like what you're doing with your carbon dioxide Earth, we can be real twins soon!

    March 30, 2011 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ron B

    Unfortunately Messenger will not release the raw RGB images that some of us can turn into color images like these of Mercury:

    The planet isn't all grey like the moon as shown in the image above. That image is one of many different filtered images, all in gray-scale until we combine them together. They don't have a color camera on board so if we take the RGB images we can make color images. They use the different filter images, different wavelength, to figure out what types of chemistry of the surface material the planet is made out of. They do have some RGB, red, green, and blue filters that are close to what wavelength that our eyes see that we can use to get a close approximation of what the planet looks like in color.

    We have to wait 6 months before they release the raw filter images. This is the only time that NASA has done this, all of their other missions MER, CAssini, Galileo etc they have releases the raw images in a more timely manner???

    I don't why there not releasing the raw images in a timely manner but I am sure it isn't a conspiracy. Their most likely reason is they want to hog the data so they're the first to publish papers about the findings. This spacecraft was paid for by American taxpayers so all the data should be released in a timely manner just like it was for the last ten years on other missions.

    However with that being said, if this was Mars, Europa or Enceladus - places scientist claim that there may be evidence of past or present life, delaying release of data by the Messenger team would be looked at as a cover up by most people around the world.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      Ron you moron....

      Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), a camera with wide and narrow fields-of-view, for monochrome, color, and stereo imaging.
      Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer (GRNS), which maps the elemental makeup of Mercury’s crust.
      X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS), also used to map elemental abundances in crustal materials.
      Magnetometer (MAG), which maps the detailed structure and dynamics of Mercury's magnetic field and magnetosphere and searches for regions of magnetized crustal rocks.
      Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA), which measures the planet’s topography.
      Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS), which measures the abundance of atmospheric gases and detects minerals in surface materials.
      Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer (EPPS), which measures the makeup and characteristics of charged particles within and around Mercury's magnetosphere.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron B

      Dude - you don't know what you are talking about. So the MDIS has a color camera, it's not a conventional color camera. It doesn't automatically turn the image into color.

      Go back to school and learn something....

      March 30, 2011 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
    • ML

      I agree with you, Ron. NASA always holds back on releasing the color images to the public, until they've had plenty of time to edit them out first.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron B

      ML - Actually color camera's in the past missions wasn't top of NASA's agenda. However they can take the different filter images with different wavelength and turn them into approximate true color images by using the right RGB, wavelength filter combinations. Before Messenger that is what they did to make color images.

      MSL, Mars Science Laboratory due to be launched in Nov 2011 will have a fully functional color camera aboard, so for the first time we will see true color of the Martian surface - be ready to be surprised on the color of the Martian sky when this happens, some blue in the Martian sky at different times of the day. In fact James Cameron 3D camera was slated to go on the MSL but couldn't be added in time, see here:

      March 30, 2011 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. Triton1

    Meh ... kinda looks like I expected it to.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ummm..

    Did anybody besides me think I would look different? It's kinda disappointing cuz it looks like the moon =(

    March 30, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. International Space Station

    *YAWN* Looks exactly like the moon...

    March 30, 2011 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ummm..

    lol @ self.. thank god for typos or I don't think I would ever laugh. In my comment I wrote "I" and not "it". So yeah, without a picture do you think I would look different? *facepalm*

    March 30, 2011 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. mercedes

    God bless every1 good scripture adam polchaka!

    March 30, 2011 at 3:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Star Shooter

    There are six gold cased Hasselblad cameras left on the moon from (1969-1972). The Apollo missions took the film but left them to save weight. Anybody who can get up there can have them for free. Open statement from NASA after Apollo 17 returned in 1972...

    March 30, 2011 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. Glarp

    It's clear from that photo that the satellite is about to crash...

    March 30, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
    • glennrobert

      Do you have your hard hat on?

      March 30, 2011 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
    • justsaying

      OMG...It's a close-up of Charlie Sheen's busted crack pipe.... Winning.... I can see the Trolls now,,,

      March 30, 2011 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
    • yo yo

      Ever heard of a zooming?

      March 30, 2011 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • THinker

      No, its obviously the close up of a trolls face.

      March 30, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      I am hoping this MESSENGER has some Proactive cream on it, this planet has some serious crater issues. Hey!! what does Charlie Sheen's buttoxe have in common with Mercury surface?

      March 30, 2011 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Enoch100

      Gee Wiz. All this money spent just to find out that Mercury looks just like Arizona!

      March 30, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd


      March 30, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Douglas


      March 30, 2011 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • T. C. Hickey

      I read all this stuff you all type from somewhere in this world.... you type this and that... what a bad joke!
      99% of you bloggers (actually ; you should be called bugers) must have all failed english in school, picked your
      nose alot and scratched your butt in public.... because you all certainly did not learn anything that would inspire me
      to read this horse pie. Information these days is mostly made up of opinions.... not fact. Funny thing ..... God help us
      all if you ever have a position in management.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Good Job

      Clearly from this post you have gotten 92% dumber

      March 30, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. hi

    People need to stop pretending they don't know about planets.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
    • levend

      hehe a few more budget cuts and they will be asking what country are we in.

      March 30, 2011 at 5:08 am | Report abuse |
    • THinker

      Whats a planet?

      March 30, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • JM Pelland

      Believe it or not, I ran into someone who didn't even know there were other galaxies out there...

      March 30, 2011 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramdomact

      When Halley's Comet passed by years ago, I couldn't beleive my (then) 30-something sister-in-law didn't even know what a comet was. Of course, she could recite every bible verse, though. I really think schools need to whack kids over the head with rulers to get them to pay attention to something other than their cell phones and iPods.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      I thought Mercury was liquid.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
    • bobert1965

      Silly Donna. Mercury is an offspring of Ford Motor Company.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Just last week, CNN claimed that Mercury was a plant, not a planet.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Reality

      I just wonder how this planet keeps getting into our fish? That was a joke folks.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian B

      Yeah, how do they woirk?

      March 30, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. Buzz Lightyear

    Astronauts get higher...

    March 30, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
    • andrew

      to infinity and beyond!!!!!!!

      March 30, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. Gemo

    Great picture. I've always been interested in the harder to see planets, with Mercury being so close to the sun. I am looking forward to more great images of Mercury.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • TechGromit

      But why is the picture black and white, can't NASA afford some good quality HD color cameras? I'd rather wait a little longer for a good high quality color image than a grainy black and white picture.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Iwrite

      @TechGromit: Maybe this photo *is* in color. Maybe that's what Mercury looks like in color .

      March 30, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jordan s Name*

    It's a reminder that there's more to this universe than humans and earth. Beautiful

    March 30, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
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