You’ve all heard of the “face on Mars” and the “man in the Moon” — well I guess this would be the “man on Mercury!” And I feel like I’ve seen him somewhere before…
In yet another instance of the phenomenon known as pareidolia, it’s hard not to see the vaguely human shape in this image of Mercury’s surface, acquired by the MESSENGER spacecraft in July 2011. But what looks like a person with upraised arms (resembling, the team suggests, a certain carbonite-encased space smuggler) is really an ancient block of surface crust that juts from the floor of Mercury’s vast Caloris basin — likely the remnants of harder material predating the basin-forming impact 3.9 billion years ago. The low angle of sunlight from the west helps to highlight the surface shapes.
The image above shows an area 96 km (59.7 mi.) across.
If Jabba really wanted to keep his favorite wall decoration safe, perhaps he should have put it on Mercury…
It’s been just over two months since the MESSENGER spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Mercury, back on March 18, and it’s been enthusiastically returning image after image of our solar system’s innermost planet at a unprecedented rate. Which, of course, is just fine with us!
The image above shows Mercury’s southern hemisphere and the bright rays of the 50-km-wide crater Han Kan. It was acquired on May 17, 2011.
Below are more recent images from MESSENGER… some of which show regions and features that have never previously been mapped – or even named!
MESSENGER’s orbit about Mercury is highly elliptical, taking it 200 kilometers (124 miles) above its northern surface at the closest pass and 15,193 kilometers (9,420 miles) away from the south pole at furthest. Check out this video showing an animation of how a typical MESSENGER orbit would be executed.
Image credits: Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System’s innermost planet. During the one-year primary mission, MDIS is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images in support of MESSENGER’s science goals.