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MESSENGER Mission News
December 22, 2011

A Christmas Crater on Mercury
The crater at the center of Wednesday's MESSENGER image of the day is named Dickens, after Charles Dickens, the English novelist who lived from 1812 to 1870. Among Dickens' most famous works is A Christmas Carol, the story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his tortured journey to a more humanitarian and generous nature.

This image was acquired as part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System's (MDIS) high-resolution surface morphology base map. The surface morphology base map will cover more than 90% of Mercury's surface with an average resolution of 250 meters per pixel (0.16 miles per pixel). Images acquired for the surface morphology base map typically have off-vertical Sun angles (i.e., high incidence angles) and visible shadows so as to reveal clearly the topographic form of geologic features.

Since entering orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011, the MDIS has beamed back more than 70,000 images of the surface of the planet. The mission's imaging team has been releasing at least one new image every weekday. They are available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/. During the one-year primary mission, MDIS is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images in support of MESSENGER's science goals.

Two More Science Publications Mark MESSENGER as a Top Story of 2011

Space.com and Science News are the latest science publications to name MESSENGER and its accomplishments as one of the top science stories of 2011. They join Discover and Popular Science magazines in applauding the success of the spacecraft since it entered orbit around Mercury in March 2011.

Space.com -- which bills itself as the world's top source for news of astronomy, sky watching, space exploration, commercial spaceflight, and related technologies -- turned to MESSENGER Project Scientist Ralph McNutt to provide perspective on the 11 best astronomy stories in 2011.

"We've literally rewritten the book on the innermost planets of the solar system, and it's an important book to rewrite," McNutt said in the interview. "It's been a question of having a highly motivated group of people and the right technology and the right kind of situation and the right program to pull all these pieces together so you can actually accomplish it. It really has been a tremendous accomplishment."

In its December 31, 2011, issue, Science News -- a bi-weekly news magazine published by the Society for Science and the Public since 1922 -- included the MESSENGER mission in its annual roundup of the top stories it's covered during the year. The publication's coverage of the spacecraft's insertion around Mercury last March is available online at http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/71999/title/First_portraits_of_Mercury_from_orbit.

Girl Scout Field Trip Influences MESSENGER Engineer to Pursue a Career in Space

As a Girl Scout in second grade, Sarah Hefter Flanigan visited the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, Virginia, 'and ever since that day, I knew that I wanted to do something with space, ' she says. To learn about Flanigan's role on MESSENGER Guidance and Control team, see the latest team member profile online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/who_we_are/member_focus.html.

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

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