On January 9, 2008, the MESSENGER spacecraft snapped one of its first images of Mercury at a distance of about 2.7 million kilometers (1.7 million miles) from the planet. The image was acquired with the Narrow Angle Camera, one half of MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) instrument. Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (3030 miles) in diameter, and this image has a resolution of about 70 kilometers/pixel (43 miles/pixel). The MESSENGER spacecraft is fast approaching Mercury and will pass within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the surface at 19:04:39 UTC (2:04:39 pm EST) on January 14, 2008. During this close encounter, MESSENGER will gather extensive scientific data about the planet, including measurements of Mercury's magnetic field, observations of Mercury's thin atmosphere, and images of the hemisphere of Mercury that has never before been viewed by a spacecraft.
MESSENGER is only the second spacecraft to visit the planet Mercury; the first was Mariner 10 in 1974. The data from MESSENGER's first encounter with Mercury will help address key outstanding science questions about this little known planet. The MESSENGER mission will have two additional encounters with Mercury, in October 2008 and September 2009. All three encounters with Mercury provide gravity assists to enable MESSENGER to become the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury in March 2011.
Image acquired on January 9, 2008, 11:04 UTC.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
For information regarding the use of MESSENGER images, see the image use policy.