By Jim Allen
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft has provided the first ever image of Mercury from an orbiting spacecraft.
The satellite took the historic image on 29 March 2011. During the next six hours it continued to take another 363 images of the planet’s surface and is now sending data back to the waiting NASA scientists.
The main rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is known as Debussy. The smaller crater Matabei, with its unusual dark rays, is visible to the west of Debussy.
The bottom part of this image is near Mercury’s south pole and includes a region of Mercury’s surface not previously seen by spacecraft.
Messenger’s Principal Investigator Sean Solomon said, “The first images from orbit and the first measurements from Messenger’s other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System’s innermost planet has begun.”
Launched in 2004, Messenger arrived in orbit around Mercury earlier this month. It is the first spacecraft to be put into orbit around the closest planet to the Sun.
NASA will be releasing more pictures of virgin territory not previously imaged by spacecraft over the next few days.