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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 22, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 18
MESSENGER's Camera Reveals Mercury in New Detail

MESSENGER's modern camera revealed details in the large, shadow-filled, double-ringed crater named Vivaldi that were not well seen by Mariner 10.
Photo courtesy NASA/JHU Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

On Jan. 14, more than three decades after Mariner 10's last flyby, MESSENGER passed 124 miles above Mercury's surface and executed extensive scientific observations, including imaging a large portion of Mercury's surface that has never before been seen by a spacecraft.

On approach, the spacecraft's Narrow-Angle Camera on the Mercury Dual Imaging System instrument captured this view of the planet's rugged, cratered landscape illuminated obliquely by the sun. Taken from a distance of about 11,000 miles, about 56 minutes before the spacecraft's closest encounter with Mercury, it shows a region roughly 300 miles across, and craters as small as six-tenths of a mile.

The large, shadow-filled, double-ringed crater to the right was glimpsed by Mariner 10 and named Vivaldi, after the Italian composer. Its outer ring has a diameter of about 125 miles. MESSENGER's modern camera, however, has revealed detail that was not well seen by Mariner 10, including the broad ancient depression overlapped by the lower-left part of the Vivaldi crater.

The mission's science team is in the process of evaluating later images snapped from even closer range showing features on the side of Mercury never seen by Mariner 10. It is already clear that MESSENGER's superior camera will tell us much that could not be resolved even on the side of Mercury viewed by Mariner's vidicon camera in the mid-1970s.

Images and science results from the flyby will be posted as they become available. For more information, go to

Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA.


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