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June 8, 2009 Permalink

Mercury and MESSENGER

The planet Mercury is the smallest of the inner planets (4,880 km/3,032 mi in diameter), and the closest to the Sun (58 million km/36 million mi - or 3.2 light minutes). It was visited by the Mariner 10 spacecraft twice in the 1970s, and about 45% of the surface was mapped. On August 3rd, 2004, NASA launched a new mission to Mercury, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging probe (or MESSENGER). MESSENGER is now in the last stages of multiple gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, en route to an insertion into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. In just two flyby encounters, MESSENGER has already greatly increased our knowledge about Mercury's surface features. As you look at Mercury in the new images below, keep in mind that it has minimal atmosphere, gravity about 1/3 of Earth's, and surface temperatures ranging from -183 C (-297 F) in some polar craters to 427 C (801 F) at high noon (Mercury's solar day lasting 176 Earth days). (20 photos total)

As NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft receded from Mercury after making its closest approach on January 14, 2008, it recorded several mosaics covering part of the planet not previously seen by spacecraft. The color image shown here was generated by combining the mosaics taken through three filters (infrared, far red and violet). These three images were placed in the red, green, and blue channels, respectively, to create the visualization presented here, creating a false-color image that accentuates the subtle color differences on Mercury's surface. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)
more photos
This page lists only comments and the first photo for the entry.
To see the entire entry, with all photographs, click here.


87 comments so far...
1.

# 20 is amazing...there is so much out there we have no idea about!

Posted by Eric June 8, 09 09:20 AM
2.

damn i almost thought this was about Mercury messenger... an OSX messenger app...

Posted by jolyon June 8, 09 09:27 AM
3.

#8 does it!
So mysterious.

Posted by Hero June 8, 09 09:30 AM
4.

#20 looks (a bit) like the Death Star ;]

Posted by Plawa June 8, 09 09:47 AM
5.

Interesting to see that the surface of this planet is formed by meteor impacts. I'm just glad we have an atmosphere :-)

Posted by Dezorian June 8, 09 09:59 AM
6.

Nice place to visit. Wouldn't want to live there, though.

Posted by Scott June 8, 09 10:03 AM
7.

How are the south/north poles defined? Is there a magnetic field on every planet of the solar system?
wonderfull pics!

Posted by mat June 8, 09 10:55 AM
8.

Awesome! reminds me of the sci-fi film Sunshine!

Posted by pinbacker June 8, 09 11:10 AM
9.

wonderful!
hatsoff to all those astronomers/physicists and each one of this mission!
wish i'm part of that team! :)

Posted by Arun Kamal R V June 8, 09 11:29 AM
10.

@Scott
It's just like the USA

Posted by Jhon June 8, 09 11:32 AM
11.

Thank You for showing us this :)

Posted by Khalil Sawant June 8, 09 11:36 AM
12.

Realy amazing! Mercury is being revealed with great and marvelous detail!

Posted by Julio Vannini June 8, 09 11:39 AM
13.

Woah juste saved a gazillion dollars for not having to go there to see it anymore. Thanks to TBP! ^_^

Posted by Magzime June 8, 09 12:18 PM
14.

@mat #7 Poles are defined by a planet's rotation, not by its magnetic field. If you consider the plane that the Earth's orbit makes around the sun, the "north" pole of any planet is its rotational pole that lies on the same side of that plane as Earth's north pole. (You can think of the entire solar system as having a "north," with the north of each planet defined as the end of the rotational axis that extends into the "north" side of the solar system.)

Yes, Mercury has a magnetosphere. Its magnetosphere is dipole like Earth's, and better aligned with its rotational poles than ours is. That is, you wouldn't have to futz with compass declination corrections on Mercury nearly as much as you do here.

Posted by Sanguinity June 8, 09 12:20 PM
15.

@mat: it seems to be a little of both, according to Wikipedia: There are a few working definitions--one has to do with the "north" axis of rotation being in the same general direction as earth's "north." One defines "north" as the pole over which the planet is observed to be rotating counterclockwise. And another has to do with magnetic fields, if the planet has them.

However, mercury is the least "tilted" of all the planets, and its magnetic poles align almost perfectly with its rotational axis, so magnetic and rotational "north" happen to be the same here. As I understand it.

Amazing images, as always!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poles_of_astronomical_bodies
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_(planet)#Magnetic_field_and_magnetosphere

Posted by Lizzie June 8, 09 12:41 PM
16.

I like these amazing space photos. Photo 8 is probably my favorite.
Did anyone notice the smoke(or what seems to be smoke) in picture 9?

Posted by Maxime Perron Caissy June 8, 09 01:11 PM
17.

@Jhon

hahahahaha

BTW, #18 is so cool

Posted by hildergarn June 8, 09 01:23 PM
18.

I teach astronomy at University of Maryland:

Dezorian: Earth's atmosphere only protects us from objects less than about 50
meters in diameter. Anything bigger than that is going to blast through the atmosphere and hit us. Fortunately, there aren't too many things that size out there.

Posted by Melissa June 8, 09 02:00 PM
19.

Mat: the north pole of a planet is the pole that if you looked "down" on it from above, the planet would be rotating counterclockwise. Most planets orbit the Sun counterclockwise, and most planets are also oriented so their north poles are more or less "up" (like the Earth's).

Not all planets have a magnetic field. Since Mercury is so small, one might think its interior had cooled off enough to solidify the metal core that might cause a magnetic field. However, measurements by Mariner 10 and confirmed by MESSENGER have shown it does have a very weak magnetic field.

Posted by Melissa June 8, 09 02:03 PM
20.

Wow, it blows your mind to think just for a second about where these photos are coming from and what we're looking at.

Posted by Miles June 8, 09 02:10 PM
21.

mat, (#7) poles are the axis of rotation.

Posted by arby June 8, 09 02:12 PM
22.

@mat, I would assume that you could define the poles based on it's rotation axis.

Posted by Chris June 8, 09 02:38 PM
23.

Realmente un trabajo fuera de serie y unas fotosgrafías de la misma calidad técnica.
Realmente mis más sinceras felicitaciones por todo el trabajo realizado y la cultura a bosotros aportada.

Dr. Martín F. Real de Azúa
Asesor Aeronáutica del Ministerio de Turismo y Deporte
República Oriental del Uruguay
América del Sur

Posted by Dr. Martín F. Real de Azúa June 8, 09 02:44 PM
24.

Damn Good.

Posted by Harry Murdoch June 8, 09 03:16 PM
25.

Really interesting!
I think we are not alone in the universe!
Congratulations from Spain!

Posted by Pabliyo June 8, 09 03:29 PM
26.

That is no planet. Its a space station.

Awesome pics. I like #1 and #20 the best.

Posted by Obi-wannabe June 8, 09 05:18 PM
27.

The last pic is just astonishing!

Posted by Apoelistas June 8, 09 09:11 PM
28.

Fascinating.

Posted by Ed June 8, 09 09:37 PM
29.

Awesome photos, but also curious of the "smoke" at the top right of pic 9

Posted by Cory June 8, 09 11:47 PM
30.

Amazing pictures... There's so much more to learn... it's just not enough... The surprises that our solar system springs up, it's just mind boggling.

Also, Mercury is the fastest planet in the solar system.It takes 88 days to go round the sun...

Posted by Derick June 9, 09 02:26 AM
31.

Re: the smoke on pic 9: Probably just a prominent ridge being caught by the sun, seen edge on from this perspective.

Posted by Mike June 9, 09 04:05 AM
32.

That's not smoke, that's the sun shining on the high edge of craters. Although i can picture smoke there... Kinda like looking at clouds and imagining objects;p
Beautiful pictures, love #8 and #20.

Congratz from Portugal

Posted by Oscar June 9, 09 05:00 AM
33.

Sorry, anyone can see the stars?

Posted by Bogdan June 9, 09 06:41 AM
34.

Absolutely great...
#20 is the best one!

Posted by Luciano Stabel June 9, 09 07:02 AM
35.

It's actually quite frightening to be honest...

Posted by Leon June 9, 09 07:03 AM
36.

I remember visiting Mercury as a small robot, but there was nothing to do there. Some friends still live there though, so I do get back from time to time to visit. Thanks for the pictures!

Posted by R2D2 June 9, 09 08:25 AM
37.

The "smoke" in #9 is just a ridge, lighten by the sunlight...

Posted by m42 June 9, 09 09:54 AM
38.

#20 is the best by far

Posted by Hector June 9, 09 10:04 AM
39.

Yes, #8 looks like a shot composed by Stanley Kubrick...

Posted by David B. June 9, 09 11:03 AM
40.

It's amazing how round Mercury is despite all its craters!

Posted by wiseoldfart June 9, 09 11:07 AM
41.

@32: No chance for both in one picture - Mercury is really, really bright (just consider how close it is to the sun). Can't have it both ways: If you want to see the stars, Mercury's just an overexposed, white blob. If you set the camera to see Mercury, the stars are too faint to register.

Posted by Mark June 9, 09 11:12 AM
42.

Bogdan -- you can't see the stars in these pictures because they are so faint that in order for the camera to pick them up, it would have to overexpose Mercury. This is why most pictures taken by deep space probes don't show stars -- the point of the mission is to see planets/moons/asteroids/whatever, not stars. But some do. Cassini has taken some incredible pics of the dark sides of moons, lit only by Saturnshine or even the fainter ringshine. To image such faintly lit surfaces, they have to do long exposures, and then you can see the stars (although they're usually smeared because of the spacecraft panning during the exposure to track the object as it goes by). Also, all probes have taken pictures of stars for navigational purposes, though the pictures aren't very pretty or useful, so you don't see them very often.

Posted by Calli Arcale June 9, 09 11:56 AM
43.

Great pictures, but how much money was spent to get these pictures of a dry, monotonous planet? Wouldnt it have been much better to spend that money to speed up the exploration of "Planet Earth"? There is so much we need to learn about our complex, fragile yet beautiful home. Our survival as a species depends on us understanding our planet ASAP!

Posted by Frank K June 9, 09 12:00 PM
44.

so pure.

Posted by nanimo June 9, 09 03:10 PM
45.

These photos are beautiful.
Yeah, why can't you see any stars in the background?

Posted by Malderine June 9, 09 03:33 PM
46.

#4, #25: If you really want something that looks like the Death Star, try Saturn's moon Mimas.

Downright uncanny, that one is...

Posted by Joe June 9, 09 03:52 PM
47.

AWESOME!

Glad to see NASA is alive and well, despite all the irrational hate out there.

The spirit of adventure is not dead!

Posted by bob June 9, 09 03:56 PM
48.

@25

Hahaha, awesome Star Wars reference there bud.

Posted by bob June 9, 09 03:57 PM
49.

I assume they wear the head covers to keep from contaminating anything by falling hair. If so, why does the person in Pic #2 have hair hanging out so much?

Posted by Bob June 9, 09 04:37 PM
50.

@32: It's not possible to see stars in these images because the surface of the Mercury is much brighter that the average star. Since Mercury is what we are interested in seeing, the Messenger spacecraft's camera has been set to provide the clearest possible pictures of the planet itself, using very short exposures.

Spacecraft that are designed to look at stars (for example, the Hubble Space Telescope) must use much longer photographic exposures than ones like Messenger, which are designed to investigate planets.


Posted by Brian Prince June 9, 09 04:43 PM
51.

The US is in the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression... and we're spending all this money... for this? What a waste. Get rid of NASA - it will save us trillions!

Posted by jimmy June 9, 09 04:49 PM
52.

No, it would save you billions. NASA doesn't use that much money in the great scheme of things. If you want to save money, cut in the military; that's the big player in the US federal spending.

Besides, with trillions being spent on economic stimulus anyway, why not spend some of it on NASA? It's as good a stimulus as any...

Posted by Audun June 9, 09 08:32 PM
53.

Photos 6 and 7 just flippin blew me away. The engineering behind it is incredible. Yea, what the hell, as long as our government is throwing away money, lets give NASA an extra 25 billion per year. At least they're doing something worthwhile

Posted by Matt June 9, 09 11:44 PM
54.

Save trillions??? Have you even looked at the Federal Budget? NASA accounts for just over half of one percent of the Federal Budget. That's minuscule when compared to a lot of the other wasteful shit that is in the budget. Yeah, let's cut NASA and put more people out of work. Not to mention all the vendors they use would lose a lot of work too. What a genius idea you have.

Posted by Jason June 9, 09 11:46 PM
55.

Dear Earthians,

Can you deliver some sunblock cream with good SPF ? I am getting sunburned badly, daily.

Regards Mercury

PS: I will ask for a stretch marks removal cream next time.

Posted by Brahmin June 10, 09 01:51 AM
56.

absolutely amazing :) these craters looks like these craters are connected, and the basic planet centers

Posted by Gintas June 10, 09 08:45 AM
57.

what are you doing in order to analize solar wind in depth?

Posted by giancarlo marandola June 10, 09 05:13 PM
58.

I would like to know more about the special orbits of mercury

Posted by luciana June 10, 09 07:23 PM
59.

JHUAPL site that compares planned Mercury images with the actual ones: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/encountersm2actual/

Posted by K June 10, 09 07:33 PM
60.

@51- the tech we use daily has space roots, and this went up before present situation

Posted by spacey one June 10, 09 08:58 PM
61.

amazing pics!!..oh God I love it...#20 it's so awesome!!.. really like it..

Posted by maria June 10, 09 09:23 PM
62.

@Sanguinity, Lizzie, Arby, Chris & Melissa: thank you!

Posted by mat June 11, 09 03:43 AM
63.

thank you so much for the space pictures, keep them coming. loving every single glorious image

Posted by nafis June 11, 09 04:27 AM
64.

The ignorance about NASA's budget and what it provides to citizens everyday never ceases to amaze me. NASA's budget is about 1% of the entire federal budget. A visit to http://www.techbriefs.com/ will demonstrate that NASA does not waste the taxpayers' money. Even if you don't like exploration, see the many products developed because of NASA research.

Posted by Mary Lider June 11, 09 06:45 AM
65.

I work for the Principal Investigator of the MESSENGER mission, and everyday I am awed by the entire team's dedication and hard work. The more the scientists learn about Earth's siblings, the more they understand about Earth's internal and external dynamics. Knowledge is power in every field of study.

Posted by Jan June 11, 09 03:25 PM
66.

#7: It always amazes me that these delicate instruments can survive the violence of liftoff unscathed. That's-a some-a good engineering there.

Posted by kevjohn June 11, 09 04:13 PM
67.

Great pics. #20 is my new desktop wallpaper, pure class, thanks!

Posted by Paddy June 11, 09 04:42 PM
68.

@51 What a silly comment. As spacey one mentioned, the money that goes into NASA develops amazing technology that has a trickle down effect and can play a big part in our lives later. To think that investing in NASA is a waste of taxpayer money is shortsighted and ignorant.

As for the "trillions" you're a little off: $17.6b to NASA total; $3.5b for exploration (down 8% from last year)
source: http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/

Posted by Chase June 12, 09 01:39 AM
69.

@66: Liftoff is one thing, they've been doing that for years. I'm more amazed that the instruments and electronics can survive and operate in the fantastic temperature extremes as the craft passes into and out of shadow that close to the sun. "surface temperatures ranging from -183 C (-297 F) in some polar craters to 427 C (801 F) at high noon"

Posted by Steve June 12, 09 07:42 AM
70.

La France aussi aime ces photos :)

Posted by Jean June 13, 09 02:29 AM
71.

Mercury, May I ask-- Why? John June 15th 20:46 ps "breathtaking"

Posted by Anonymous June 15, 09 06:50 AM
72.

i love this !

j'adore sa c'est juste magnifique ! est allez la france !

Posted by anis June 15, 09 02:11 PM
73.

Awesome pictures !!!!

Posted by Jim June 16, 09 04:41 AM
74.

Really nice pictures indeed... Thanks !

Anis, tu n'es pas vraiment Français(e) n'est-ce pas ? Faire autant de fautes en une phrase, c'est chaud quand même :)

Et pourquoi autant de commentaires parlant de la France ? Arrêtons de faire les chauvins les amis, on parle d'astronomie, de poésie, de mathématique... Bref, ce qui concerne tous les Humains :)

Posted by Nico June 18, 09 11:52 AM
75.

It's amazing how it looks lile our MOON!!!

Posted by Carlos Romero June 28, 09 10:02 PM
76.

simplemente excelso!

Posted by josè jacobo July 1, 09 08:52 PM
77.

Simply Gorgeous, Dear mercury way to put our little earth lives in perspective

Posted by Tyler Padasak July 3, 09 02:00 AM
78.

yeah because they built mercury after the death star....

Posted by RJ July 5, 09 11:08 PM
79.

Wow mercury is exceptionally boring in appearence.

Posted by Cliff Davies July 6, 09 04:55 AM
80.

If you compare these images with photographs of our own moon from the Apollo missions, you'll see some striking similarities. I found it hard to believe that this was Mercury and not the moon.

Posted by MD July 8, 09 07:25 PM
81.

How many impacts on surface.
Maybe there is some pieces of the former comets through Solar System.
Mercury can be a nice Enciclopedia of the Origin. Diferent shapes un craters must show different ages.
Very interestin photos, I love 10 and 13

Posted by Name July 9, 09 06:20 PM
82.

wow, we finally got more of mercury's surface. pics 1 and 20 shed so much new light on this amazing planet. i cant wait 'till we get more pics of pluto on 2015. that will be amazing!
i wonder if scientists will send a landing probe to discover more. it probably won't be any time soon, what with the economy and all.

Posted by jefferson van wagenen July 10, 09 08:59 PM
83.

This information is very incredible.

Posted by Miya September 17, 09 11:30 AM
84.

These are not impact craters. They're hydrocraters from volcanism. Pic #12 shows craters with outflowing channels, as does #16. Fill up the crater in #16 with water and you have Crater Lake in Oregon, with its Wizard Island. Or Mono Lake in California, with its Pahoa Island. Or the dry Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley N.Park which is considered a steam eruption. Water has been discovered on nearly every planet in the Solar System, including the Sun and other stars. Google it. There is a reason why the planets are spherical, the same as why liquid droplets are spherical in the absence of gravity.

Posted by Frank Lee October 1, 09 02:47 PM
85.

boring...but interesting kinda cool

Posted by bella December 10, 09 05:45 PM
86.

that is cool and awsome

Posted by Anonymous December 10, 10 07:50 PM
87.

omg ilove murcury iam doing a project on it cool

Posted by Anonymous December 12, 10 11:54 PM
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