Feeds

Messenger delivers first Mercury orbital snap

NASA team 'thrilled' with spacecraft's performance

Intelligent flash storage arrays

NASA's Messenger has returned the first photograph taken by a spacecraft circling Mercury, a tad under two weeks after it went into orbit around the solar system's innermost planet.

Messenger image of Mercury. Pic: NASA

The agency explains* that the snap was taken at 09:20 GMT on 29 March, and over the next six hours, Messenger grabbed a further 363 images.

The spacecraft launched back in 2004, and subsequently made three fly-bys of Mercury before permanently taking up position above the surface. It's already imaged most of the planet's surface, and is now poised to "gather data on the composition and structure of Mercury's crust, its geologic history, the nature of its active magnetosphere and thin atmosphere, and the makeup of its core and the materials near its poles".

The mission's principal investigator, Sean Solomon, said earlier this month: "Despite its proximity to Earth, the planet Mercury has for decades been comparatively unexplored. For the first time in history, a scientific observatory is in orbit about our solar system’s innermost planet. Mercury’s secrets, and the implications they hold for the formation and evolution of Earth-like planets, are about to be revealed."

Because of the amount of fuel required for orbital insertion, Messenger's payload was limited to just 50kg. Despite this, NASA managed to cram in a rack of instruments.

Graphic showing Messenger's instruments. Image: NASA

The spacecraft is currently in an "orbital commissioning phase" prior to beginning full operations over Mercury on 4 April.

Solomon enthused: "The entire Messenger team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan. 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." ®

Bootnote

* NASA adds: "The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy. The smaller crater Matabei with its unusual dark rays is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this image is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft."

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.