More images released of Mercury, taken by orbiter
March 30th, 2011
04:36 PM ET

More images released of Mercury, taken by orbiter

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.

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soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. mommajam

    Call me old-school, but I love books; being able to keep favourites and pass them around among friends; seeing a book on a shelf and remembering the joy I had reading it. I wonder if these new gadgets will promote the same love of reading and bonding between fellow readers. Also, there's an element of coldness in the electronic things for me at least. I hope books don't disappear altogether.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • mommajam

      OOPS!!! My computer hiccuped and bumped me to this article in mid-response....gotta love technology.
      Great pix of Mars..want to see more.

      March 31, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • mommajam

      Mercury..I think I'll go have some coffee now...Ha~

      March 31, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. chuckmartel

    Well the scientific community seems to agree that in roughly 250 mil to 300 mil years, plate tectonic activity will make the earth's atmoshere next to uninhabitable for todays human life. In 2 bil to 3 bil years from now, the plate tectonic activity will stop and the earth will become a dead planet. The earths magnetic field will go away, resulting in the atmoshere being gradually knocked away by the solar wind. We would be like a bigger version of Mars. The suns output will also have increased by around 20 percent((?). In 5 bil to 6 bil years or so the sun goes red giant and no more earth. Looks like humanity will have to find another place to live if it is to survive by geologic time standards.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ceri

      Thanks a bunch, how am I supposed to get to sleep now???

      March 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jazz7

    Night all

    March 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    It isn't as though NASA bundles hundred-dollar bills into a rocket and shoots them into the sun! The money NASA spends goes to pay scientists and technicians, machinists and truckers and cargo handlers and electricians and... well, many thousands of ordinary people owe their jobs to the work of building satellites and booster rockets. And the knowledge these experiments return has paid for the effort many times over. People laugh at Tang and the other humorous examples, but our lives would be very different had NASA not needed to develop technologies to make this stuff work.

    March 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LMNOP

    This is exactly what Earth is going to look like in a few years, once the human race is done with it.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paul

    When I was 4 I watched Alan Shepard blast off into space. I was hooked. I never made it into NASA but I did go into a science based career.

    I recently retired from a science based Federal agency. A few years ago I travelled about 200 miles, spent a night in a hotel room (all at government expense along with my two days of salary) to attend a career fair at a rural (very rural) school. As a taxpayer I was proud of what I did. I saw perhaps 20 kids and one of them had a real interest in science. I was the only person at this science fair representing a science career. If I was just one small factor in encouraging this kid to pursue his dreams and he ends up working for IBM, NASA, Micron, or any other of the myriad science based businesses or government agencies I am glad I had a part in it. We need to encourage our young people to dream.

    Go NASA!

    March 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Canadian

      Good for you Paul. In the long run, every kid who goes on to study the sciences has a real chance at contributing to humanity and to our understanding of the universe, the very big and the very small. The great shame of our age is that most of the best and brightest are lured away from the truly exciting world of science by the lure of wealth.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mauna Kea

      Paul, if you ever get a chance take a vacation to the Big Island, Hawaii. Be sure to come during the no/new moon time. There is a star gazing program offered 365 nights a year at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea! Located at the 9300 foot (2800 meter) level on Mauna Kea, the 'big boys' observatories are up at 14,000 feet and you can arrange for a tour of the Keck observatory. Back down at the Onizuka Center there are 1 16" and 2 14" scopes out for the public to use and volunteer hosts to explain the skies.

      The skies are awesome, and the hosts are the best. You need to visit us.

      March 31, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • jj

      Thanks for encouraging our kids. They need to be inspired to pursue careers in science.

      March 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Toro

    There was a time when people believed the Earth was flat.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • b

      There are a bunch of folks who still think it is. Down with evolution!! If god had wanted us to look at Mercury he would have had pictures of it in the bible... 🙂

      March 30, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • just me

      based on the comments here, apparently many still do!

      March 31, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. CD

    We'd better solve the population bomb before it goes off, and climate chaos, while were at it, for surely we'll all be toast long before Sol goes Nova. (Sol is the formal name for our sun, in case y'aa didn't know!).

    March 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JWG

    This just in: Mercury is really freakin hot. I mean HOT HOT HOT. For our next mission, we will stop by Venus to see if chicks really live there.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexander

      We have been there, and the Russian's landed probes on it. Its hotter then Mercury on the surface and the air pressure melts rock.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Gg

    At coordinates of 30 degrees east and 85 minutes north there are certain airbrush traces. What happened there?! ;D

    March 30, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • jj

      That's where they erased the FACE on Mercury.

      March 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dave Music

    So, about the picture. Is it me or does it appear that there might be some type of gyser emission or volcanism going on in the upper left quarter portion of the photograph. It could be from a meteor ejecting material at a steep angle, but, I am not sure. There seems to be two dark streaks heading away from a small crater in almost acone shaped angle.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lone

      It just looks like ejecta, newer and at an angle, but just the same as the other craters. Not to say that it couldn't be smoke but since there is no atmosphere and no weather to push it in two directions, much less one like you'd expect, I doubt it is.

      March 31, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. JR

    Geologically dead... 🙁

    March 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ok


    March 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frederica

    Another magnifecent, wonder-filled, useless chunk of rocks!! I'm all for space exploration and robot making, but when will scientists realize true science must gear towards restoration of clean Planet Earth instead of keeping producing useless toxic toys and watching uninhabitable planets?

    March 30, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexander

      This isn't the only program in NASA at the moment. NASA in fact does a lot of that, and some of the indirect results of this mission support that.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      You're probably way more qualified to comment on "true science" than "true scientists", right?

      Hum... well, I just today completed a science project, I isolated the white dwarf cooling sequence for 47 Tuc and compared the variance of that to the variance in the photometry itself to see if I could detect multiple stellar populations, and as it turns out I actually did get some statistically significant results in most magnitude bins. That's an incredibly interesting result, but it has to do with a cluster some 17 thousand lightyears away and holds virtually no current practical value. However, I sincerely doubt that anyone in my physics or astronomy department would say that I wasn't doing "true science". In fact, I'd argue any scientist period, over the past three hundred years since Sir Isaac Newton would say I wasn't doing "true science".

      "Science" isn't done with practical goals in mind, that's not "true science", "science" is done because of a desire to learn, a desire to explore interesting systems. I didn't do this project because I somehow wanted to revolutionize the world, I did it because it's interesting. THAT's science.

      What you describe is engineering, where research is conducted with practical goals. Scientists are not necessarily engineers. I often find that people who talk about what scientists should be doing seldom have any background in science themselves.

      March 30, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just saying.....

      Frederica – try turning off your laptop, Then turn off your lights. Make sure the TV is off also and turn your furnace.

      Now sit you stupid ass in the dark and think about being a responsible sane human instead of a nitwit.

      March 31, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Wolf

    Say what you want about the space program, but I still get wide-eyed when I read about the things that we're doing beyond the confines of our planet. No, maybe taking pictures of Mercury won't help me get a better job or fix my broken air conditioner, but it still, I think, is part of what defines our experience as a society (and I'm not referring to only America). Can you believe that over 20 years after launch, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is STILL working and actively monitored by NASA? It's now the farthest man-made object from Earth. Mercury is much closer, but we still know so little about it. I can't wait to see more pictures coming back.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
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