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The MESSENGER spacecraft completed its second and final close encounter with Venus on June 5. As the spacecraft departed from the planet the Wide Angle Camera captured a sequence of 50 images showing Venus disappearing in the distance. MESSENGER was 60,688 kilometers (37,710 miles) from the planet at the start of the sequence and 89,310 kilometers (55,495 miles) at the end. Initially, images were acquired at a rate of one of every 20 minutes, and then as Venus shrank the timing interval was increased to 60 minutes. These images represent the last view of Venus by MESSENGER, but they also point toward the spacecraft's first encounter with Mercury in January 2008.
The January flyby will provide the MESSENGER team with its first science observations of its prime target, Mercury. The Venus flyby provided the mission operations team an opportunity to complete successfully a full test of the complicated series of spacecraft motions required to build up high-resolution image mosaics at Mercury. Mariner 10 imaged only one hemisphere of Mercury in 1974-75. During the upcoming flyby the MESSENGER instruments will photograph and make measurements of half of the hemisphere viewed by Mariner 10 and half of the hemisphere never before imaged by spacecraft. MESSENGER will capture the rest of the planet in subsequent flybys in October 2008 and September 2009. In March 2011 MESSENGER will be inserted into orbit about Mercury, allowing detailed observations of the planet for a full Earth year.
Departure sequence consists of MDIS frames EW0089578826F through EW0089670026F (430-nm wavelength filter).
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
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