Flying By Mercury

The ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo spacecraft took these pictures of Mercury during its first gravity assist flyby of the planet. During its seven-year cruise to the innermost planet of the Solar System, BepiColombo makes one flyby at Earth, two at Venus and six at Mercury. It will finally arrive in orbit around Mercury in 2025.

Video Credit: ESA / JAXA


This video is a compilation of thousands of images taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft of Mercury. It’s rendered in exaggerated colors to highlight different surface features. Rays emanating from a northern impact that stretch across much of the planet, and about half-way through the video, the light colored Caloris Basin, a northern ancient impact feature that filled with lava, rotates into view. Recent analysis of MESSENGER data indicates that Mercury has a solid inner core.\

Video Credits: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington

Five Planets

five_planets_chartFrom now until around Feb. 20, pre-dawn stargazers will stand a good chance of seeing all five planets known to ancient astronomers simultaneously: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Those planets should be visible to the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars may be necessary to pull Mercury out of the pre-dawn sky glow from the Sun.

Jupiter will rise in the evening, then Mars will come over the horizon after midnight, followed by Saturn, then Venus, and Mercury just before dawn. All five should be visible from southeast to southwest between 6:00 and 6:30 am local time.

Image Credit: NASA

This Isn’t the Moon

It’s Mercury. The MESSENGER spacecraft captured images used to make this video during a flyover of the planet’s north pole on 8 June, 2014. The images were taken once per second while the spacecraft was at altitudes ranging from 115 to 165 km, traveling at a speed of 3.7 km/s relative to the surface. The frame rate has been sped up by a factor of seven for ease of viewing. The images have resolutions ranging from 21 to 45 m/pixel.


Video Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington

BTW, MESSENGER was launched ten years ago today.

A Day on Mercury

This animation shows wide-angle camera images of Mercury’™s south polar region taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft over one complete Mercury solar day (176 Earth days). This dataset enabled the illumination conditions at Mercury’™s south polar region to be quantified, producing the map seen at the end of the movie and provided as a separate image. The map is colored on the basis of the percentage of time that a given area is sunlit; areas appearing black in the map are regions of permanent shadow. The large crater near Mercury’s south pole, Chao Meng-Fu, has a diameter of 180 km.

Video Credit: NASA

Look on the Sunny Side

sunny_sideThis view of Mercury’s horizon was taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the planet. It was acquired looking from the shadows toward the sunlit side of the planet.A 120-km impact crater stands out near the center. The crater has several chains of secondary craters which gouge linear tracks radially away from it. While this crater does not appear to be of recent origin (its rays have faded), its secondary crater chains are more prominent than most similar craters.

Once per week, MESSENGER captures images of Mercury’s limb, with an emphasis on imaging the southern hemisphere limb. These limb images provide information about Mercury’s shape and complement measurements of topography made by the spacecraft’s laser altimeter of Mercury’s northern hemisphere.

Image Credit: NASA

An Elliptical Crater

ellipticalcraterMost craters are more or less circular. This is Hovnatanian crater on Mercury, named for Armenian painter Hakop Hovnatanian. The crater’s elliptical shape and the bright rays’ butterfly pattern indicate the whatever hit the planet causing the crater came in at a very shallow angle. The brightness of the rays indicates that they are relatively young features on Mercury’s surface.

This image was acquired by the MESSENGER spacecraft, the first to orbit Mercury. MESSENGER has acquired over 150,000 images and other extensive data sets, and should continue orbital operations until early 2015.

Image Credit: NASA

UPDATE—Cabin Boy Bill Schmalfeldt likes this picture. He tweets:

RadioWMS ‏I don’t know about you, but I enjoy these closeup pictures of Hoge’s complexion.
3:26 PM – 3 Aug 13 GMT

Taking Mercury for a Spin

All the surface of planet Mercury has now been mapped. Detailed observations of the planet have been being made since the MESSENGER spacecraft first flew by Mercury in 2008 and entered orbit in 2011. Previously, the Mariner 10 flybys in the 1970s photographed only about half of the planet which is too far away for Earth-based telescopes to see any significant detail. This video was put together using thousands of images of Mercury. Exaggerated color enhancement provides better contrast of different surface features. A couple of interesting features to watch for as the planet rotates are sets of rays emanating from impact sites that stretch across much of the planet and the light-colored Caloris Basin, a ancient impact feature that filled with lava in the northern hemisphere.

Video Credit: NASA

Triple Conjunction

tripleconjuntion2scaleWhile driving back home from Baltimore last night, my son and I saw a rare triple conjunction of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter in the early night sky. Last night’s show was the most compact arrangement of the planets, but they will be visible together all this week. Mercury and Venus will be a bit higher above the horizon at sunset each night even as Jupiter sinks lower. The picture on the left show the three planets to scale. Venus is the brightest object in the sky other than the Sun or Moon. It’s the planet nearest to Earth and, being closer to the Sun, brightly illuminated. Jupiter is the farthest of the three, but it’s large reflecting area makes up for the distance. Tiny Mercury is closest to the Sun, but reflects the least light to us of the three.

Image Credits: NASA