Feeds

Astroboffins spot smiley face on Mercury

Taking a break from science, NASA's hard-working orbiter finds a friend

Boost IT visibility and business value

It may not be an image as mysterious as the "Face on Mars" spotted by Viking I in 1976, but NASA's MESSENGER Mercury orbiter has snapped a shot of whimsical smiley-faced crater on that desolate planet.

"It looks like even the craters on Mercury have heard of Bob Ross!" NASA exclaimed when unveiling the photo, referring to the ever-twinkling host of the ever-cheerful PBS show The Joy of Painting.

The reason for the release of the photo is not, of course, to extol that now-deceased purveyor of all that is sweetness and light, who was known for such lyrical bromides as "We don't make mistakes, we make happy little accidents."

Rather, NASA is calling attention to the successes of its MESSENGER orbiter – a painfully convoluted backronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging – which was launched on August 3, 2004, and which last month won the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) the 2012 Laurels for Team Achievement Award.

Although MESSENGER was launched over eight years ago, it didn't enter its Mercurial orbit until March 2011. Since its arrival at that hot rock, it has acquired 88,746 images, and NASA has plans to acquire another 80,000 during next year's extended mission.

Image of 'smiley face' crater photographed by NASA's Messenger Mercury orbiter

Among MESSENGER's 88,746 images, one smiles back (click for uncropped original)

In addition to those images, MESSENGER has also obtained what NASA defines as "extensive other data sets" from its rich mix of instrumentation: a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, magnetometer, laser altimeter, atmospheric and surface-composition spectrometer, energetic-particle and plasma spectrometer, and Doppler radio sensor.

That degree of scientific depth, however, doesn't catch the general public's fancy as much as a single smiley-face crater image might – and during these days of budget cuts and jostling for the few dollars that fall from the tight fists of a deficit-crazed, ax-wielding Congress, NASA is to be forgiven for a bit of "Look at us!" PR jollity. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.