Astronomy Picture of the Day – MESSENGER’s Last Day on Mercury

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2015 May 1


MESSENGER’s Last Day on Mercury
Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins Univ. APL, Arizona State Univ., CIW

 

Explanation: The first to orbit Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft came to rest on this region of Mercury’s surface yesterday. Constructed from MESSENGER image and laser altimeter data, the scene looks north over the northeastern rim of the broad, lava filled Shakespeare basin. The large, 48 kilometer (30 mile) wide crater Janacek is near the upper left edge. Terrain height is color coded with red regions about 3 kilometers above blue ones. MESSENGER’S final orbit was predicted to end near the center, with the spacecraft impacting the surface at nearly 4 kilometers per second (over 8,700 miles per hour) and creating a new crater about 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter. The impact on the far side of Mercury was not observed by telescopes, but confirmed when no signal was detected from the spacecraft given time to emerge from behind the planet. Launched in 2004, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemisty and Ranging spacecraft completed over 4,000 orbits after reaching the Solar System’s innermost planet in 2011.

NASA Image of the Day for October 9th

Vesta Sizes Up

 

This composite image shows the comparative sizes of nine asteroids. Up until now, Lutetia, with a diameter of 81 miles (130 kilometers), was the largest asteroid visited by a spacecraft, which occurred during a flyby. Vesta dwarfs all other small bodies in this image.

Asteroid Vesta also is considered a protoplanet because it’s a large body that almost became a planet and has a diameter of approximately 330 miles (530 kilometers). was the largest asteroid visited by a spacecraft, which occurred during a flyby. Vesta dwarfs all other small bodies in this image.

Asteroid Vesta also is considered a protoplanet because it’s a large body that almost became a planet and has a diameter of approximately 330 miles (530 kilometers).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/ESA