March 31, 2011

NASA Unveils More Images Of The Planet Mercury

NASA released the first batch of hundreds of photos taken by MESSENGER during its orbit of Mercury on Wednesday.

The images show numerous battle scars on the planet, which scientists said are from space rocks regularly pelting Mercury at high speeds.

MESSENGER's images have revealed a planet full of craters from pieces of asteroids and comets.

Mission chief scientists Sean Solomon said scientists are surprised to see more secondary craters than expected.

Scientists said that those craters are created by the falling soil kicked up from space rock collisions.

Solomon told The Associated Press that the craters look different than the ones found on the moon because the space rocks are moving faster and hit Mercury harder.

MESSENGER has taken 363 more photographs of Mercury so far.  It is the first spacecraft to visit the planet since the Mariner mission in 1974.  MESSENGER launched in 2004 and reached orbit around the planet on March 17.

The spacecraft 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: This WAC image showing a never-before-imaged area of Mercury's surface was taken from an altitude of 450 km (280 miles) above the planet during the spacecraft's first orbit with the camera in operation. The area is covered in secondary craters made by an impact outside of the field of view. Some of the secondary craters are oriented in chain-like formations. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


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