Early Tuesday morning, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft sent us the first image of Mercury ever taken from orbit around the planet.
Messenger reached orbit around the innermost planet of our solar system 11 days ago, and it has adjusted its trajectory since then; it has now sent its first picture!
The image below (click it for the full resolution picture) was taken at 5:20 a.m. EDT on March 29, as Messenger was above Mercury’s south pole.
The bright crater at the top of the image is called 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.
The orbiter took 363 more images of the planet’s surface over the following six hours: these images are part of the commissioning phase, supposed to check that all the instruments are working. The science phase of the mission will begin on April 4, acquiring 75,000 images in support of Messenger’s science goals.
NASA will hold a teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday to discuss this first shot of the innermost planet and release more photos.