Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Messenger sends first pic from Mercury orbit

More than six-and-a-half years after launching from Cape Canaveral, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury has beamed back its first image.

The picture was the first of hundreds taken early Monday as NASA's Messenger spacecraft flew high over Mercury’s south pole, including terrrain never seen before by spacecraft.

Messenger entered Mercury's orbit March 17 and is in the process of testing its instruments and systems. A yearlong mapping and science observation campaign is set to begin April 4.

“The entire Messenger team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan,” the mission's principal investigator, Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said in a statememt. “The first images from orbit and the first measurements from Messenger’s other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System’s innermost planet has begun.”

More images are expected to be released Wednesday. Click here for more background on the first image.

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