A view of Mercury from MESSENGER’s October 2008 flyby (NASA / JHUAPL / Gordan Ugarkovic)
Every now and then a new gem of a color-composite appears in the Flickr photostream of Gordan Ugarkovic, and this one is the latest to materialize.
This is a view of Mercury as seen by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft during a flyby in October 2008. The image is a composite of twenty separate frames acquired with MESSENGER’s narrow-angle camera from distances ranging from 18,900 to 17,700 kilometers and colorized with color data from the spacecraft’s wide-angle camera. (North is to the right.)
Click the image for a closer look, and for an even bigger planet-sized version click here. Beautiful!
The images that made up this mosaic were taken two and a half years before MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury on March 19, 2011 UT, becoming the first spacecraft ever to do so and making Mercury the final “classical” planet to be orbited by a manmade spacecraft.
Since that time MESSENGER has completed well over 1,000 orbits and taken more than 100,000 images of the first planet in the Solar System, which filled in most of our gaps in Mercury’s map and showed us many never-before-seen features of the planet’s Sun-scoured surface. And just this past year MESSENGER’s extended mission helped confirm what could be called its most important discovery of all: water ice on Mercury’s north pole.
This was even selected by Scientific American as one of the Top 5 Space Stories of 2012.
With all that’s been achieved by MESSENGER in 2011 and 2012, 2013 is looking to be an interesting year!
“We learned a great deal about Mercury over the past year,” said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The team published three dozen scientific and technical papers and delivered more than 150 presentations at national and international meetings. New measurements continue to stream back from our spacecraft, and we can look forward with excitement to many additional discoveries in 2013.”
Inset image: 12 Mercurial discoveries by MESSENGER in 2012. Click to review.