March 29, 2011
Image Mission Elapsed Time (MET):
Wide Angle Camera (WAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
7 (748 nanometers wavelength)
290 meters/pixel (0.18 miles/pixel)
This image is approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) across
As the MESSENGER spacecraft moved northward during the first orbit for which images were acquired, the WAC captured this image. The bright rays from Hokusai
can be seen extending across this image, but also clearly visible near the center of this image is a small patch of material that is considerably darker than the surrounding terrain. Other locations with dark material have been spotted across Mercury's surface, including the floor of Hemingway crater
, as a halo surrounding Derain
, as rays from Matabei
, and near some craters in Caloris basin
. What is this dark material? Likely it is due to a dark type of rock on Mercury's surface, but there is not currently enough information to identify the type of rock. However, with MESSENGER now in orbit, that situation will soon change, as MESSENGER's orbital science campaign will provide unprecedented chemical information about the rock types on Mercury's surface.
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.