Shown here is the first MESSENGER image from 2012! Though this image was acquired on January 1, it wasn't downlinked from the spacecraft until this week. The spacecraft has two solid-state recorders, which enable data to be stored on the spacecraft, and the mission uses a system of priorities to determine which data are downlinked. Often images are sent back to Earth within a few days of being acquired but occasionally longer times between image acquisition and downlink occur.
The year 2011 was an historic one for the MESSENGER mission, and there is much to look forward to in 2012. In 2012, the mission will continue to return new data from the Solar System's innermost planet nearly every day, completing its one-year primary mission in March and beginning new scientific observation campaigns in a one-year extended mission.
This image was acquired as part of MDIS's campaign to monitor the south polar region of Mercury. By imaging the polar region every four MESSENGER orbits as illumination conditions change, features that were in shadow on earlier orbits can be discerned and any permanently shadowed areas can be identified after repeated imaging over one solar day. During MESSENGER's one-year mission, MDIS's WAC is used to monitor the south polar region for the first Mercury solar day (176 Earth days), and MDIS's NAC is used for imaging the south polar region during the second Mercury solar day.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System's innermost planet. Visit the Why Mercury? section of this website to learn more about the key science questions that the MESSENGER mission is addressing. During the one-year primary mission, MDIS is scheduled to acquire more than 75,000 images in support of MESSENGER's science goals.
Date acquired: January 1, 2012
Image Mission Elapsed Time (MET): 0233869628
Image ID: 1207852
Instrument: Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
Center Latitude: -83.30°
Center Longitude: 41.44° E
Resolution: 298 meters/pixel
Scale: This image is approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles) across
Incidence Angle: 91.6°
Emission Angle: 8.7°
Phase Angle: 99.0°
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.