The MESSENGER spacecraft continues to speed toward Mercury, preparing for its closest approach to the planet on Monday, January 14, 2008, at 19:04:39 UTC (2:04:39 pm EST). This image was snapped with the Narrow Angle Camera, one half of MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), on January 10, 2008, when MESSENGER was a distance of just less than 2 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from the planet. Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (3030 miles) in diameter, and this image has a resolution of about 50 kilometers/pixel (31 miles/pixel).
During the flyby on January 14, 2008, extensive scientific observations are planned. Beginning 30 hours prior to the closest encounter, when the spacecraft will pass a mere 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the surface, MDIS will begin to acquire images regularly of Mercury and continue until about 22 hours following the closest approach. MESSENGER will then start to transmit the new data to Earth once all of the scientific measurements are completed. This exciting new data set will be the first spacecraft data returned from Mercury in over 30 years, since the three Mariner 10 flybys in 1974 and 1975.
Image acquired on January 10, 2008, 21:06 UTC.
These images are from MESSENGER, a NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study of the innermost planet, Mercury. For information regarding the use of images, see the MESSENGER image use policy.