1,000th Featured Image from the Mercury MESSENGER Spacecraft


1,000th Featured Image from the Mercury MESSENGER

The MESSENGER project is celebrating the posting today of the 1,000th featured image from Mercury. The Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) team has posted a new image to the MESSENGER website approximately once per business day since March 29, 2011, when the first image obtained from orbit about the innermost planet was made public.

Today's image is a collage comprised entirely of earlier featured images. "I thought it sensible to produce a collage for the 1,000th web image because of the sheer volume of images the team has already posted, as no single picture could encompass the enormous breadth of Mercury science covered in these postings," explained MESSENGER Fellow Paul Byrne, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Some of the images represent aspects of Mercury's geological characteristics, and others are fun extras, such as the U.S. Postal Service's Mercury stamp. The '1,000' superimposed on the collage is a reminder of the major milestone the team has reached in posting 1,000 featured images -- and even a motivation to post 1,000 more."

"During this two-year period, MESSENGER's daily web image has been a successful mechanism for sharing results from the mission with the public at large," said Nancy Chabot, MDIS Instrument Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). Chabot has been leading the release of web images since MESSENGER's first flyby of Mercury, in January 2008.

"The first image I released was this one, as MESSENGER approached Mercury for the mission's first Mercury flyby," said Chabot. "Mercury was just a small crescent in the image, but it was still very exciting for me. We were obtaining the first spacecraft images of Mercury since Mariner 10 transmitted its final image in 1975, and this was just the beginning of the flood of images that followed."

Chabot said that over the subsequent five and a half years there have been other pivotal "image" moments, most notably the first image returned after the first Mercury flyby. "It was exciting to see a part of Mercury's surface that had never been seen at close range before," she said. "Much of the MESSENGER science team was gathered together in the project's Science Operations Center to see this first historic image, and it didn't disappoint anyone. I also found it rewarding to be able to share this image with the world so quickly afterwards by posting it on our website."

And then there was the first image acquired from Mercury orbit. "I was a bit of a nervous wreck waiting for the image to be downlinked to Earth," she said. "I had no rational reason to worry; but, then, sending the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury is difficult and challenging. When this beautiful image showed up, I was so happy, and I knew that it was just the first of many more to come."

The herculean effort involved in posting a new image every business day was made possible by a small team of scientists in addition to Chabot and Byrne, including APL's David Blewett, Brett Denevi, Carolyn Ernst, Rachel Klima, Nori Laslo, and Heather Meyer.

"Creating images and captions for the MESSENGER Image Gallery has been fun and interesting," Blewett said. "Working on a Gallery release gives me a chance take a break from my regular research and look all around Mercury's surface for an image that the general public might find to be engaging from a scientific, artistic, or humorous perspective (and sometimes all three!)."

"The posting of the 1,000th image of Mercury on our web gallery is a wonderful benchmark, but there's much more to come," adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "MESSENGER's altitude at closest approach is steadily decreasing, and in a little more than six months our spacecraft will be able to view Mercury at closer range than ever before with each orbit. Stay tuned!"

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. MESSENGER's extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later. A proposed second extended mission is currently under evaluation by NASA. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, the Director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

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