Picture of the Day: First Image of Mercury From Orbit

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At 5:20 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, March 29, MESSENGER captured this, the first image ever taken from a spacecraft in orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet in our Solar System. Over the next six hours, MESSENGER shot more than 350 additional photographs, sending them back to NASA.

"The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy," NASA explained. "The smaller crater Matabei with its unusual dark rays is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this image is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft."

With a year-long science mission underway as of Monday, April 4, MESSENGER's schedule calls for it to take more than 75,000 images of the planet. During that time, the spacecraft will also use its seven scientific instruments to study Mercury more closely than has been possible before.

View more Pictures of the Day.

Image: NASA.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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