Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 2004 September 12 - Mercury: A Cratered Inferno
Explanation: Mercury's surface looks similar to our Moon's. Each is heavily cratered and made of rock. Mercury's diameter is about 4800 km, while the Moon's is slightly less at about 3500 km (compared with about 12,700 km for the Earth). But Mercury is unique in many ways. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, orbiting at about 1/3 the radius of the Earth's orbit. As Mercury slowly rotates, its surface temperature varies from an unbearably cold -180 degrees Celsius to an unbearably hot 400 degrees Celsius. The place nearest the Sun in Mercury's orbit changes slightly each orbit - a fact used by Albert Einstein to help verify the correctness of his then newly discovered theory of gravity: General Relativity. The above picture was taken by the only spacecraft ever to pass Mercury: Mariner 10 in 1974. A new mission, Messenger, launched for Mercury last month and is scheduled to enter orbit around the Solar System's innermost planet in in 2011.
APOD: 2003 April 12 - Mercury on the Horizon
Explanation: Have you ever seen the planet Mercury? Because Mercury orbits so close to the Sun, it never wanders far from the Sun in Earth's sky. If trailing the Sun, Mercury will be visible low on the horizon for only a short while after sunset. If leading the Sun, Mercury will be visible only shortly before sunrise. So at certain times of the year an informed skygazer with a little determination can usually pick Mercury out from a site with an unobscured horizon. Above, a lot of determination has been combined with a little digital trickery to show Mercury's successive positions during March of 2000. Each picture was taken from the same location in Spain when the Sun itself was 10 degrees below the horizon and superposed on the single most photogenic sunset. By the middle of this month, Mercury will again be well placed for viewing above the western horizon at sunset, but by the end of April it will have faded and dropped into the twilight. On May 7th, Mercury will cross the Sun's disk.
APOD: 2003 February 16 - Southwest Mercury
Explanation: The planet Mercury resembles a moon. Mercury's old surface is heavily cratered like many moons. Mercury is larger than most moons but smaller than Jupiter's moon Ganymede and Saturn's moon Titan. Mercury is much denser and more massive than any moon, though, because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, the Earth is the only planet more dense. A visitor to Mercury's surface would see some strange sights. Because Mercury rotates exactly three times every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury's orbit is so elliptical, a visitor to Mercury might see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. >From Earth, Mercury's proximity to the Sun causes it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise.
Authors & editors:
NASA Web Site Statements, Warnings, and Disclaimers
NASA Official: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: EUD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.