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MESSENGER Mission News
January 16, 2008
|Detailed Close-up of Mercury's Previously Unseen Surface
Just 21 minutes after MESSENGER's closest approach to Mercury on January 14, 2008, the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) took this picture showing a variety of intriguing surface features, including craters as small as about 300 meters (about 300 yards) across.
This is one of a set of 68 NAC images showing landscapes near Mercury's equator on the side of the planet never before imaged by spacecraft. From such highly detailed close-ups, planetary geologists can study the processes that have shaped Mercury's surface over the past 4 billion years.
One of the highest and longest scarps (cliffs) yet seen on Mercury curves from the top center down across the right side of this image. (The Sun is shining low from the left, so the scarp casts a wide shadow.) Great forces in Mercury's 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 scarp near the top of the image.
This image was taken from a distance of only 5,800 kilometers (3,600 miles) from surface of the planet and shows a region about 170 kilometers (about 100 miles) across.
Mercury's Cratered Surface
During its flyby of Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft acquired high-resolution images of the planet's surface. This image, taken by the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), was obtained on January 14, 2008, about 37 minutes after MESSENGER's closest approach to the planet. The image reveals the surface of Mercury at a resolution of about 360 meters/pixel (about 1,180 feet/pixel), and the width of the image is about 370 kilometers (about 230 miles).
This image is the 98th in a set of 99 images that were taken in a pattern of 9 rows and 11 columns to enable the creation of a large, high-resolution mosaic of the northeast quarter of the region not seen by Mariner 10. During the encounter with Mercury, the MDIS acquired image sets for seven large mosaics with the NAC.
This image shows a previously unseen crater with distinctive bright rays of ejected material extending radially outward from the crater's center. A chain of craters nearby is also visible. Studying impact craters provides insight into the history and composition of Mercury as well as dynamical processes that occurred throughout our Solar System. The MESSENGER Science Team has begun analyzing these high-resolution images to unravel these fundamental questions.
Additional information and features from MESSENGER's first flyby of Mercury are online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/mer_flyby1.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 after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. 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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