March 29, 2011
Image Mission Elapsed Time (MET):
Wide Angle Camera (WAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
7 (748 nanometers wavelength)
166 meters/pixel (0.10 miles/pixel)
The bottom of this image is about 84 kilometers (52 miles) across
This WAC image showing a never-before-imaged area of Mercury's surface was taken from an altitude of ~450 km (280 miles) above the planet during the spacecraft's first orbit with the camera in operation. The area is covered in secondary craters
made by an impact outside of the field of view. Some of the secondary craters are oriented in chain-like formations.
This image was taken during MESSENGER's closest approach to the sunlit portion of the surface during this orbit, just before crossing over the terminator
. The oblique illumination by the Sun causes the long shadows and accentuates topography. The highly elliptical orbit
of MESSENGER brings the spacecraft down to a periapsis (MESSENGER's closest approach to Mercury) altitude of ~200 km (125 miles) and out to an apoapsis (MESSENGER's farthest distance from Mercury) altitude of ~15,000 km (9300 miles).
On March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011, UTC), MESSENGER became the first spacecraft ever to orbit the planet Mercury
. The mission is currently in its commissioning phase, during which spacecraft and instrument performance are verified through a series of specially designed checkout activities. In the course of the one-year primary mission, the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation
will unravel the history and evolution of the Solar System's innermost planet. Visit the Why Mercury?
section of this website to learn more about the science questions that the MESSENGER mission has set out to answer.
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.