Skip to comments.Spacecraft Beams Home New Images of Mercury (Nasa's Messenger)
Posted on 01/16/2008 6:49:26 PM PST by NormsRevenge
Scientists are sifting through their first new views of the planet Mercury in more than three decades thanks to images beamed home by NASA's MESSENGER probe.
The car-sized spacecraft zipped past Mercury in a Monday flyby and is relaying more than 1,200 new images and other data back to eager scientists on Earth.
"Now it's time for the scientific payoff," MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington told SPACE.com after the flyby. "It's just a complete mix of results that we're going to get."
In one new image, released today, the planet's stark surface is shown peppered with small craters, each less than a mile (1.6 km) in diameter and carved into an area about 300 miles (482 km) across. MESSENGER used its narrow-angle camera to photograph the scene, which is dominated by a large, double-ringed crater dubbed Vivaldi after the Italian composer. While the crater was last seen by NASA's Mariner 10 probe, MESSENGER's camera observed it with unprecedented detail, researchers said.
Another new view reveals the first look at the half of Mercury left uncharted by Mariner 10.
"It is already clear that MESSENGER's superior camera will tell us much that could not be resolved even on the side of Mercury viewed by Mariner's vidicon camera in the mid-1970s," said MESSENGER researchers at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in a Wednesday statement. JHUAPL engineers built MESSENGER for NASA and are managing its $446 million mission for the space agency.
MESSENGER, short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, trained its seven instruments on Mercury on Monday for the first of three planned flybys to guide itself toward a March 18, 2011, arrival into orbit around the small, rocky planet. The mission is the first to visit Mercury since 1975, when Mariner 10 made its third and final swing past the planet.
"These flybys are the only time that we fly by the surface of Mercury at low latitude near the equator," Solomon said.
MESSENGER is due to make a second rendezvous at Mercury in October, then swing by on third pass in September 2009. The probe launched in August 2004 and flew by Earth once and Venus twice during its 4.9 billion-mile (7.9 billion-kilometer) trek toward Mercury orbit.
During Monday's flyby, MESSENGER skimmed just 124 miles (200 km) above Mercury's surface and snapped photographs of about half of the estimated 55 percent of the planet that remained uncharted after Mariner 10's mission. In addition to imagery, the probe is expected to return a wealth of new observations made by its seven instruments to scrutinize Mercury's surface composition, magnetic field, tenuous atmosphere, unusually high density and other features.
"It will take upwards of a week to get all of the data off the spacecraft," said MESSENGER systems engineer Eric Finnegan before the Monday flyby. "Within that week, the scientists will start receiving some of the images of the flyby and processing that data."
Researchers hope MESSENGER's findings will not only answer long-standing questions about Mercury, but also shed new light on how planets formed in the early days of the solar system. The probe will generate complete maps of Mercury's surface, measure the planet's gravitational field and search for any hints of ice at the bottom of permanently shadowed craters near the poles as part of its mission.
"I just can't wait," said Mark Robinson, a MESSENGER science team member at the University of Arizona. "I want to see what's around the corner."
This photo supplied by NASA shows this view of Mercury's rugged, cratered landscape illuminated obliquely by the sun, taken by NASA's Messenger spacecraft on Monday,Jan. 14, 2008. This image was taken from a distance of approximately 11,000 miles, about 56 minutes before the spacecraft's closest encounter with Mercury. It shows a region 300 miles across including craters less than a mile wide. The large, shadow-filled, double ringed crater to the upper right was glimpsed by Mariner 10 more than three decades ago and named Vivaldi, after the Italian composer. (AP Photo/NASA)
NASAs MESSENGER spacecraft captured this image on January 14, 2008, during its closest approach to Mercury. The image reveals a variety of intriguing surface features, including craters as small as 300 yards across. The image also shows landscapes near Mercurys equator on the side of the planet never before imaged by spacecraft. These highly detailed close-ups enable planetary geologists to study the processes that have shaped Mercurys surface over the past 4 billion years. One of the highest and longest cliffs yet seen on Mercury curves from the top center down across the right side of this image. Great forces in Mercurys crust have thrust the terrain occupying the left two-thirds of the picture up and over the terrain to the right. An impact crater has subsequently destroyed a small part of the cliff near the top of the image. This image was taken from a distance of 3,600 miles from surface of the planet and shows a region approximately 100 miles across. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Oh man, would that flip some folks out.. a man on mercury mound ,, oh man..
I’ll make up a better one in the morning. Maybe I can drop it into the DU and see if they run with it. Maybe some Easter Island heads on Mercury.
*(I owe you an e-mail!)
This commercial always cracks me up.
Is it just me, or does this look like EVERY picture of our moon that I’ve ever seen?
Photo in the News: First View of Mercury’s “Other Face”
Mercury’s spin reveals molten, not solid core
Reuters | Thursday, May 3, 2007 | Julie Steenhuysen
Posted on 05/03/2007 10:51:50 PM EDT by SunkenCiv
...A team of scientists in Bern, Switzerland, decided to tackle the mystery. They ran a pair of extensive computer simulations to test the collision theory.
"You always try to prove an idea wrong. This work shows it could have happened in this way,'' said astronomer Jonti Horner, who will present his results tomorrow at a Royal Astronomical Society meeting in Leicester, England.
First, the scientists simulated the catastrophic collision of the young Mercury with a giant asteroid traveling at 16 miles (25 kilometers) a second...
(Mercury: Garbage In - Garbage Out?)
Thanks. I wondered if that hypothesis of an old impact on Mercury began life as an alternative model of formation for the Earth’s Moon; even if so, it didn’t work out. IMHO, best case scenario it was Pelion on Ossa.
Mercury’s formation impact splattered Earth with material
Source: Royal Astronomical Society
“...Given the amount of material that would have been ejected in such a catastrophe, it is likely that there is a reasonable amount (possibly as much as 16 million billion tonnes [1.65x10^19 kg]) of proto-Mercury in the Earth.”
Moon — Mass: 7.3477x10^22 KG (0.0123 Earths)
According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon
(the hypothetical chunks of proto-Mercury would be 2.2456007E-4 per cent of the Earth’s moon’s mass)
Whoops, not “per cent”, just the figure itself. [blush]
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