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. David

    A Black & white photo again.
    It makes you think why at todays technology we also only have a B/W photos of the Moon etc.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Triad

      Actually, we have lots of color photographs of the moon taken by the Apollo program astronauts. The reason why they don't look like they're in color is because space is black and the moon is grey. Look for some pictures with the lander or the Earth in them.

      As for B/W used in these space probes, the cost in power to transmit color photographs is significantly higher than the cost in power to transmit in black and white. Since we don't particularly need to know what color stuff is on Mercury, but the features of the terrain of great interest to us, black and white photography makes the most sense. These orbiters can't carry around gigantic batteries and solar power is limited by how much of it the craft can process, so lower-power transmissions just work better for us even with today's technology.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:56 am | Report abuse |
    • copanut

      The moon and Mercury are basically colorless places.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Comm0nSense

      Say what you will, these b/w photos are a sure to nor get any public funding. No one these days will be impressed, much less inspired, by bunch of b/w photos, no matter what planet they are taken on.

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

      People these days are morons and their opinions shouldn't count when it comes to how we conduct scientific experiments.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
    • groovesoop

      Black and White photos are not necessarily black and white. In most cases the satellites can take photographs in many different wavelengths of light, from infrared to ultraviolet, even x-ray or others. Each of these "slices" of light can be combined or stacked in computers to create real color images. In most cases, there's not much more to see in a color photograph of mercury then there is in a black and white image, and sometimes less. B/W imagery is great at revealing surface characteristics such as ridges or pockets. Color images can sometimes blur those distinctions. For the general public, it's not a bad idea to put out a color photograph along with a black and white one, but this one was the first (from one spectral range, likely a red or blue. As others are received, I'm sure you will begin to see color versions.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Stop... had me at "morons".

      March 30, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Just.A.Guy

      It's a racial thing....

      March 30, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      I suppose you won't be satisfied until you get the flourescent version on black velvet....

      March 30, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • BFC

      The MESSENGER does in fact have a color camera on board and has taken multiple full color pictures of Mercury in its fly-bys. MESSENGER entered orbit two weeks ago and this is the first image it has sent back, which just happens to by without color. As the MESSENGER continues to be in orbit, it will start taking colored pictures too and send them back. Perhaps people should pay a little more attention to reality and the extremely hard work that everyone in this division of APL does before making ignorant and uninformed comments. If you are in desperate disbelief that we have pictures in color, look at this information.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • puprplepuppy

      Black and white is still the best for low light situations. It gives the best contrast. My digital has a low light setting and the photos come out black and white same with my video camera.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. Pat

    That's not Mercury...


    March 30, 2011 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Zaphod

      Awesome! Thanks for a well-needed laugh this morning. I actually read your line with the voice of Sir Alec Guinness in my head.

      March 30, 2011 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
    • MightyMoo

      You are mistaken, the battle station is out at Saturn.

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

      Sorry...Saturn's are no longer made.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Mars

      Haha, nice call. Mercury is home to Wookies.

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

    Great imagery! Mercury is no longer just a faint black dot moving over the Sun (in those rare times it's traversing in reference to th western hemisphere). It's an interesting planet where a day lasts 59 Earth days and is such a small size (~5% of Earth's volume), but it also has a global magnetic field. The temperatures also vary drastically. During the day temps reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit and night it can drop to minus 300F. It's nice to finally get some good instruments orbiting the body.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
    • crabtowncecily

      Thanks for the extra info (read it once upon a time long ago, but wouldn't have recalled it without your comment)– it added greatly to my appreciation of the picture!

      March 30, 2011 at 5:07 am | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Wow! You could get a great tan there! And with no people, you could take it all off – no tan lines!

      March 30, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Good Job

      Nice google.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Sunar From Indonesia Phone: 628993362379 Web:

    is any living being there?

    March 30, 2011 at 3:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Joshua


      March 30, 2011 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Mars

      Yes the hopes and dreams of Obama's second term. Everything else is burnt up by the sun.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mike F.

    I'd love to see a probe go down and take pictures from the surface. This space art was the best I could find:

    March 30, 2011 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
    • LB

      Best you could find? Notice the river flowing on the surface of Mercury below the big Sun! Doubt there would be a river on Mercury unless it is Mercury that is flowing. Hehe!

      March 30, 2011 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Silkworm

    Hey all of you friendly planets.

    I hope you won't mind if I crash your party. :o)

    March 30, 2011 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ben Dayhoe

    Dude, I can totally see my house from here.

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

      Sarah? Is that you?

      March 30, 2011 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      No, that'd be Ben Dovahoe

      March 30, 2011 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Just.A.Guy

      No, it's not Sarah, but I bet she can see it from her home....

      March 30, 2011 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Just.A.Guy

      .. thus she will be able to claim experience in astronomy...

      March 30, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. mystereo

    Okay, who drew the smiley face on the left hand side of the photo? Damn it, I spent all day creating this in Photoshop!

    March 30, 2011 at 4:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Satan

    This looks like a boring planet. I saw way cooler ones on Star Trek and Star Wars.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  10. Pacoatemiami

    Mercury looks just like the Moon. I want my money back.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • hollydolly

      Yeah, good luck with that one... I wonder how much this project cost anyways. Nasa has alot of awesome projects worth spending the money on, and some real dumb/basically pointless ones I would have rather seen scrapped. Oh well... they don't have much of a budget to waste anymore. Obama doesn't liketo give nasa cash. He would rather give it to crack heads via free cell phones.

      March 30, 2011 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
    • dpeters11

      About $427 million, which is actually a cheap mission.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. Ron B

    Again, the color of Mercury is not grey....

    March 30, 2011 at 4:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ben Dayhoe

    It's amazing what people will argue about these days.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Joshua

      No it isn't!

      March 30, 2011 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Zaphod

      Yes, it is.

      March 30, 2011 at 5:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Greasy Pickle

      No it isn't

      March 30, 2011 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Bones

      That's not arguing, that's just contradicting each other.

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

      Thats it times up
      but I paid for a full hour
      no you didnt
      yes i did
      no you didnt
      yes i did

      March 30, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Zaphod

      I'm still looking for the room with the "being hit on the head" lessons.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Mars

      you are wrong Mr. Bones!

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

      Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?

      March 30, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. The Missing Link

    And the humans with their 'big' brains still haven't figured out where I've been all these years. Though I would appreciate some iced tea the next time you send one of your ships this way- mercury is a bit dry.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. earth

    at least photoshop and put some color in it..... looks kind of scary..

    March 30, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sarah Palin

    "Yet another squarmish the Obama administration is getting us into"

    March 30, 2011 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
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