An artist's concept shows the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around Mercury. MESSENGER successfully flew by Mercury on Oct. 6, 2008, using the planet's gravity to alter the probes path and help put it on track to become, in March 2011, the first spacecraft ever to orbit the innermost planet in the solar system.
MESSENGER's Wide-Angle Camera: The wide-angle camera (WAC) is not a typical color camera. It can image in 11 colors, ranging from 430 to 1020 nm wavelength (visible through near-infrared).
First Image Ever Obtained from Mercury Orbit: At 5:20 am EDT on Mar. 29, 2011, MESSENGER captured this historic image of Mercury. This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System's innermost planet. Over the subsequent six hours, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down.
Exploring the Rays of Debussy: Bright rays, consisting of impact ejecta and secondary craters, spread across this NAC image and radiate from Debussy crater, located at the top. The image, acquired during the first orbit for which MDIS was imaging, shows just a small portion of Debussy's large system of rays in greater detail than ever previously seen. Images acquired during MESSENGER's second Mercury flyby showed that Debussy's rays extend for hundreds of kilometers across Mercury's surface. Debussy crater was named in March 2010, in honor of the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918).
About 58 minutes before MESSENGERs closest approach to Mercury on Oct. 6, 2008, the Narrow Angle Camera captured this close-up image of a portion of Mercurys surface -- imaged by spacecraft for the first time during this flyby. The features in the foreground, near the right side of the image, are close to the terminator, the line between the sunlit dayside and dark night side of the planet, so shadows are long and prominent. Two very long scarps, or cliffs, are visible in this region, and the scarps appear to crosscut each other. The easternmost scarp also cuts through a crater, showing that it formed after the impact that created the crater. Other neighboring impact craters, such as in the upper left of this image, appear to be filled with smooth plains material.
Machaut is the name of a crater, approximately 100 kilometer (60 mile) in diameter, first seen under high-sun conditions by Mariner 10 in the 1970s. The crater is named for the medieval French poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut. This NAC image shows an amazing new view of Machaut taken during MESSENGERs second flyby of Mercury on Oct. 6, 2008. The slanting rays of the Sun cast shadows that reveal numerous small craters and intricate features. The largest crater within Machaut appears to have been inundated by lava flows similar to those that have filled most of the floor of the larger feature. The adjacent, slightly smaller crater was formed at a later time and excavated material below the lava-formed surface. MESSENGER science team members will also be studying the shallow ridges that crisscross Machauts floor
MESSENGER successfully flew by Mercury on Oct. 6, 2008, using the planet's gravity to alter the probes path and help put it on track to become, in March 2011, the first spacecraft ever to orbit the innermost planet in the solar system. This image, acquired about 89 minutes before the crafts closest approach to Mercury, resembles the optical navigation images taken leading up to the flyby. The resolution of this image is slightly better than that obtained by the final optical navigation image set, and the surface visible is newly imaged terrain that was not previously seen by either Mariner 10 or during MESSENGERs first flyby. However, the added resolution is not the main scientific advancement that will be provided by this image. This WAC image is one of 11 viewed through different narrow-band color filters, the set of which will enable detailed color studies of this newly imaged area. In addition, the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) acquired a high-resolution mosaic of most of this thin crescent view of Mercury at a resolution better than 0.5 kilometers/pixel (0.3 miles/pixel) that will enable the MESSENGER team to explore this newly imaged region of Mercurys surface in more detail.