The MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury on Monday evening in one of three scheduled slow-down fly-bys before it begins orbiting the planet in a few years. The first images (there are going to be a LOT of them) will now begin to appear. This image from a press release out last night, shows the previously hidden face of the planet.
It doesn’t get more impressive that this. People get into this field so they can be part of these kinds of photographs. What you see is the never-before-photographed side of the planet Mercury.
On the upper right is the giant Caloris basin, including its western portions never before seen by spacecraft. Formed by the impact of a large asteroid or comet, Caloris is one of the largest, and perhaps one of the youngest, basins in the Solar System.
When Mariner 10 visited the planet 30 years ago, part of it (slightly more than one half) was hidden from view and never pictured. Thus, since then all maps of Mercury, like the one below, have contained a mysterious, blurry hemisphere on one side. But no more!
The new image was taken using the Mercury Dual Imaging System’s (MDIS) wide field camera, and it shows features down to a size of 6 miles across. It was taken at a distance of 17,000 miles from the planet.
Other images yet to be released from this fly-by, will show the surface in colour and higher resolution.