Picture of the Week #59



Mercury as imaged by the MESSENGER spacecraft during its fly-by yesterday.

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I was following the fly-by on Twitter yesterday, but I missed some of the drama of the spacecraft going into safe mode until I got home from work. It turns out that some of the data was lost, but the ultimate goal of the fly-by was a gravity assist, which worked fine. The spacecraft will actually go in to orbit in March 2011, but during the three Messenger fly-bys we've already seen parts of Mercury that have never been imaged up-close before. Only about 40% of Mercury was imaged by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974 and 75, so there is still a lot to learn about this little planet!

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