MESSENGER's first image from Mercury orbit, with the bright Debussy crater visible at upper right. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

MESSENGER’s First Image from Orbit of Mercury

Article written: 29 Mar , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Here it is, the first image taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft since entering orbit around Mercury on March 17, and it includes portions of the planet not yet previously seen by spacecraft. The image was taken on today, March 29, 2011 at 5:20 am EDT by the Mercury Dual Imaging System as the spacecraft sailed high above Mercury’s south pole. The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy, and the smaller crater Matabei with unusual dark rays is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this image near Mercury’s south pole is new territory, with MESSENGER being the first spacecraft to image this region of Mercury.


After capturing its first image, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images during six hours before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down.

The image was acquired as part of the orbital commissioning phase of the MESSENGER mission. Over the next three days, the spacecraft will acquire 1,185 additional images in support of MDIS commissioning-phase activities. Continuous global mapping of Mercury will begin on April 4.

“The entire MESSENGER team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “The first images from orbit and the first measurements from MESSENGER’s other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System’s innermost planet has begun.”

Several other images will be released tomorrow, March 30, in conjunction with a media teleconference. We’ll get them posted as quickly as possible!

Source: MESSENGER website

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18 Responses

  1. CameronWilson says

    Are those trails ? Looks like some paths are leaving the center. Hilarious that most people won’t even think that deep.

    • Grashtel says

      You should check the scale of the image, each pixel represents an area 2.7 km across so anything making trails that big is going to be mighty hard to hide (and then there is the little question of what it could be and what it would be doing on Mercury).

    • Manu says

      You’d think most people (interested enough to comment on science blogs) would have heard of crater rays by now. Hilarious indeed.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crater_ray

      • CFHinLA says

        hehe, tough crowd. Who da thought Mercury would have it’s own “Nazca lines.”

        AMAZING picture! That level of detail remind me that we are just a spec of dust on a spec of dust in the cosmos. Can’t wait for more pictures.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

      What is more hilarious here is the name of the crater is Debussy. According to the IAU Nomenclature team, it was named that after his little tune “Clair de Lune.” Complete idiots! Its on Mercury, and not the Moon!
      (Perhaps they should have named it “Paintball” instead, after the seek and find game that is so popular these days!!)

  2. William928 says

    Yes, and if you look due West of the Debussy crater, you can spot the famous Mercury Man! Thanks Manu, hilarious doesn’t even begin to describe it….

  3. Ryan R Scott says

    Maybe that giant slug-thing that tried to eat the Millenium Falcon in Empire crawled out and went for a walk (or a slither, or whatever).

    Seriously, it’s a wonderful photo, and I look forward to more from the press conference tomorrow. It’s always exciting to see new details from planets and moons within our solar system come rolling in for the first time.

  4. Something which intrigues me under the standard assumption that an impact causes such rayed craters, is that many of the “rays” are not radial from the point of impact, but instead tangential. Some even appear to be curved. What gives?

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

      Don’t tell me, don’t…
      It is been zapped by some electromagnetic death ray and is following the magnetic field lines on Mercury!
      Don’t correct me, don’t!

      • Not-so-wise cracks aside, does anybody have any intelligent input regarding my observation?

      • rulesfor says

        Yes, it’s a curved surface.

      • Yes, it’s a curved surface.

        Yes, it is a curved surface, but that does not explain curved rays adjacent to straight ones, nor does it explain the tangential alignment of many. It’s worth going to the messenger site and downloading the hi-res image for a good look, you’ll see what I mean, and it applies not only to Debussey crater but also to others.

      • Olaf says

        I have no doubt that you already know it perfectly well what caused it and you are dying to tell use.

        But I am not that smart so I just would guess that it is another crater just out of this picture.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

      I know, but I’m not telling…

  5. PlasmaPhysics says

    This isn’t really a serious science venue, davesmith_au.
    Sad, but true.
    Good comment. Nice to see somebody is paying attention to the details.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

      Nice little slight here…
      Funny how the EU/PC nutter stick together and pretend to be some “interested observer” when it s veiled under an known organised agenda. Serious science. You have got to be kidding me!! You would know serious science if it came along and slapped you in the face!
      Like apparently you, you desperately crave for the limelight. It a’int gonna happen, sunshine! Pah!

    • The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians says

      Gosh. Don’t you guys ever give up?
      Ipso facto you fellas or ipso nutso!

  6. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Ah!! !!! ADVERTISING!!!!
    (Please don’t bother again with this crap!!)

    Disappear you advertising nutter!

    Read the Universe Today policy, please!!

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