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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

NASA Releases First Image Of Mercury In 35 Years

March 30, 2011

On Tuesday, NASA released the first image the MESSENGER spacecraft has taken during its close-up encounter of the planet Mercury.

The first image taken by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft focuses on a 50-mile-wide crater called Debussy.

MESSENGER has taken 363 more photographs of Mercury so far, some of which NASA will release on Wednesday.

MESSENGER is the first spacecraft to visit the planet since the Mariner mission in 1974.  The spacecraft launched in 2004 and reached orbit around the planet on March 17.

The spacecraft has completed over a dozen laps within the inner solar system during the past 6.6 years.

MESSENGER will take 17,000 more photographs throughout its mission, which is expected to last at least another year.  These images will allow scientists to map out Mercury’s entire surface and study its geology and atmosphere in detail.

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

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