Earth Resumes Surveillance of Mercury

After a two-month hiatus, the Messenger spacecraft has resumed sending home images of the sun's closest companion.
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Xiao Zhao crater (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Mars gets all the attention. Mars Mars Mars Mars. Then there's Jupiter with its storms and Saturn with its rings. Even Pluto gets all kinds of attention, and it's not even a planet.

But who's paying attention to old Mercury?

Actually, that would the Messenger spacecraft, which was the first to orbit the planet, and completed mapping it in early 2013.

For the last two months, Mercury has been on the other side of the sun, so the spacecraft wasn't sending any images of the planet back our way. 

As of this week, transmissions have resumed, and we're getting to see the surface of Mercury again. The backlog of surveillance imagery is now being sent back to Earth.

Above we have a (for Mercury) high-resolution image of the Xiao Zhao crater. For scale, the crater is 15 miles in diameter.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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