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First Color and Annotated Image of Mercury from Orbit

Thursday 16 June 2011

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


Instrument: Mercury Dual Imaging System – Wide Angle Camera.

This historic first orbital image of Mercury was acquired 37 years to the day after Mariner 10ʼs historic first flyby of the innermost planet. Here we see a color version (left) of that first imaged terrain. Labels have been added (right) to indicate several craters that were named based on Mariner 10 images, as well as Debussy, Matabei, and Berkel, which were named based on MESSENGER flyby images. The surface contained in the white lines is terrain previously unseen by spacecraft, and the star indicates the location of the south pole. The first image acquired by MESSENGER from orbit around Mercury was actually part of an eight-image sequence, for which images were acquired through eight of the WACʼs eleven filters. In this view the images obtained through the filters with central wavelengths of 1000 nm, 750 nm, and 430 nm are displayed in red, green, and blue, respectively. One of MESSENGERʼs measurement objectives is to create an eight-color global base map at a resolution of 1 km/pixel (0.6 miles/pixel) to help understand the variations of composition across Mercuryʼs surface. On March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011, UTC), MESSENGER became the first spacecraft ever to orbit the planet Mercury. The mission is currently in its commissioning phase, during which spacecraft and instrument performance are verified through a series of specially designed checkout activities. In the course of the one-year primary mission, the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation will unravel the history and evolution of the Solar System’s innermost planet.

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