This schematic of MESSENGER's orbit illustrates some of the challenges to acquiring observations of Mercury's north polar region. During its primary orbital mission, MESSENGER was in a 12-hour orbit and was at an altitude between 244 and 640 km at the northernmost point in its trajectory. Since April 2012, MESSENGER has been in an 8-hour orbit (shown here), and it has been at an altitude between 311 and 442 km at the northernmost point in its trajectory. Even from these high-latitude vantages, Mercury's polar deposits fill only a small portion of the field of view of many of MESSENGER's instruments.
Instrument: Wide Angle Camera (WAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
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 acquired 88,746 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is now in a year-long extended mission, during which plans call for the acquisition of more than 80,000 additional images to support MESSENGER's science goals.
For information regarding the use of images, see the MESSENGER image use policy.