October 7, 2008
Keeping a Rendezvous with Mercury
Between January 9 and 13, 2008, as the MESSENGER probe approached Mercury for its first flyby, the Narrow Angle Camera, part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), acquired a series of images of the planet in support of spacecraft navigation. These images have been put together as frames in a movie. The final frame of the movie has the highest spatial resolution (20 km/pixel, 12 miles/pixel) and was recorded when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 760,000 kilometers (470,000 miles) from Mercury. Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (about 3030 miles) in diameter.
As part of MESSENGER’s flyby on January 14, MDIS will obtain high-resolution image sequences with the Narrow Angle Camera, and the Wide Angle Camera will collect images in eleven colors. The images will cover portions of the planet never before seen by spacecraft, as well as regions that were photographed by Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975. The new data for the previously studied areas of Mercury will help scientists to interpret the data for the parts of the planet that MESSENGER will reveal for the first time.