Wednesday, March 30, 2011


A First Look at Mercury’s Surface

By KENNETH CHANG

It is the first photo from the first spacecraft to orbit the first rock from the Sun.

On Tuesday morning, NASA’s Mercury Messenger took this photograph of the surface of Mercury. The bright pockmark in the upper half of the image is a 50-mile-wide crater called Debussy. (Craters on Mercury are named after artists, musicians and writers.)

The spacecraft then took 363 more photographs before sending the images to Earth; more will be released to the public on Wednesday, when NASA will hold a news conference about what it sees on Mercury.

The Messenger began its trip through the inner solar system six and a half years ago, and it entered orbit around Mercury on March 18. Since then, engineers have been checking out the spacecraft before turning on the instruments, including the camera. During the mission, expected to last at least a year, the Messenger is to take 75,000 more photographs, allowing scientists to map out the planet’s entire surface and study its geology and atmosphere in detail. 

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 29, 2011

A previous version of this article misstated the number of photographs the Messenger spacecraft is expected to take during its yearlong mission. The number is 75,000, not 17,000.


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