NASA has released this first ever image of Mercury as seen from the planet’s orbit. Click here to see a larger size. The image comes from NASA’s Messenger probe, which is the first spacecraft to orbit the planet closest to the sun.
The image is expected to be the first of many taken by Messenger. During the first six hours of orbit, Messenger took 363 images before transmitting some of the data back to Earth. The data is continuing to be transmitted.
The probe launched back in August 2004. The spacecraft has also flown-by Earth and Venus, before entering this historic orbit of Mercury.
NASA has pointed out that the dominant “rayed crater” in the upper portion of the image is named Debussy. To the west (left) of Debussy, the smaller crater with the unusual darker rays is Matabei. This is easier to see in the larger version of the image. The darker regions toward Mercury’s south pole include an area not previously seen by spacecraft at all.
NASA says the year long primary science phase of the mission will begin on April 4. More than 75,000 images will be taken of the solar system’s innermost planet.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington