Messenger flies past Mercury

At around 7 o'clock yesterday evening (14/01/2008), the Messenger spacecraft conducted a low fly-by of the planet Mercury, passing just 200 kilometres (124 miles) over its surface. This encounter is the first of three flybys of the planet, with further visits planned for October 2008 and September 2009 before Messenger finally enters orbit around Mercury in March 2011.

Messenger image of Mercury
Image of a crescent Mercury taken by the Messenger spacecraft.
Credit: NASA

The above image was taken was taken on 13 January, 2008, when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 760,000 kilometres (470,000 miles) from Mercury. Mercury is about 4880 kilometres (about 3030 miles) in diameter, and has a heavily cratered surface, very similar to our Moon.

During the flyby, the spacecraft gathered lots of scientific data, including over 1200 images of Mercury, some of which were of parts of the surface never before seen by a spacecraft. Messenger will begin to transmit the new data to Earth once all of the scientific measurements are completed, about 22 hours after the closest approach. As those images are released, we will add some of the more interesting ones below.

For more information about the Messenger spacecraft, click here.

Previously unseen side of Mercury
Image of the previously unseen side (by Cameras) of Mercury.
Credit: NASA

Double Crater on Mercury
Image of a double crater on the surface of Mercury.
Credit: NASA