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.

2011 March 31
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MESSENGER at Mercury

Explanation: On March 17, the MESSENGER spacecraft became the first to orbit Mercury, the solar system's innermost planet. This is its first processed color image since entering Mercury orbit. Larger, denser, and with almost twice the surface gravity of Earth's moon, Mercury still looks moon-like at first glance. But in this view its terrain shows light blue and brown areas near craters and long bright rays of material streaking the surface. The prominent bright ray crater Debussy at the upper right is 80 kilometers (50 miles) in diameter. Terrain toward the bottom of the historic image extends to Mercury's south pole and includes a region not previously imaged from space.

Tomorrow's picture: it's raining

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
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