The remarkable Mercury probe called Messenger has recorded the first ever orbital images from the innermost planet.
By now, you may have seen the first photo of Mercury ever taken by an orbiting spacecraft. If not, here’s what NASA’s Messenger probe to Mercury sent back this week (March 29).
The observer is immediately struck by how much Mercury looks like our moon. NASA said the dominant 53-mile-wide rayed crater in the top portion of the image is called Debussy, named for the French composer.
Mission planners said they expected Messenger to send back nearly 1,200 additional photos of Mercury’s surface by the end of this week. The year-long science phase of the mission is scheduled to begin on April 4. NASA expects to collect about 75,000 images of the surface of Mercury.
The guess here is that Google Mercury can’t be too far off.
The new images from Mercury were made possible in part by image sensor maker e2v, which supplied the CCD image sensor for Messenger's dual imaging system. The combined multispectral wide-angle and monochrome narrow-angle cameras are being used to map Mercury's surface in black and white, color and stereo, the U.K. company said.
Much farther afield, astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana has written a compelling op-ed piece for the New York Times on the search for life beyond Earth and what it will mean when we eventually find it. Jayawardhana concludes: "The full ramifications of the discovery may not be felt for generations, giving us plenty of time to get used to the presence of our galactic neighbors. Besides, knowing that we are not alone just might be the kick in the pants we need to grow up as a species."