Something you’ve never seen

22 10 2008

I love, and I mean LOVE, all the coolness coming from MESSENGER.  I was alive when the Voyagers first visited Jupiter, but I was only 8.  I have a strong memory of seeing the images in National Geographic and hearing about the missions from Carl Sagan on Cosmos, yet I didn’t grasp the uniqueness of the moment.  We’ve explored a couple of those outer bodies in great detail since that time, but you can only first explore an area once.  And now those places can only be re-visited.

I love the flybys of Mercury.  Up until MESSENGER this was the best picture we had:

I’ve been looking hard at that picture ever since I can remember.  It was taken by the Mariner 10 way back in 1974.  When I entered the planetarium field and started producing public shows, there were several processed mosaic images available for me to use.  The best recognized one even shows quite a bit of one side of the planet.  But I always liked this one best.  It shows well the technological limits of the time and the sparse detail we knew of that distant orb.

MESSENGER passed by Mercury a couple of weeks ago.  This is what it saw:

Click to embiggen.

click for original link

We have now mapped 95% of the surface of Mercury, and the views the probe got from this latest flyby have been spectacular!  You should cruise around the official website for a while and feel the awe of seeing something few people have ever seen.  I promise it’ll give you a taste of exploring an alien world, where imagination is as important as collecting data.  Plus, those images will just knock your socks off!

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
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One response

23 10 2008
Nick Jones

That is really awesome! I love the comparison too. I can’t even begin to marvel at the pictures until I marvel at how we got them. I don’t think a lot of people realize how very inhospitable Mercury and the surrounding area is… oceans of boiling lead. But once I get over that I see some wicked pictures!

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