Here is the sun’s innermost planet, Mercury, imaged on September 15, 2014 by the MESSENGER spacecraft. This is one of the highest resolution images of Mercury ever obtained. MESSENGER has been orbiting Mercury since 2011, but now the craft’s fuel is nearly depleted. It is slipping toward Mercury in orbit, and space engineers have been periodically boosting it higher. MESSENGER will impact Mercury in March 2015. For now, we’re getting some of the best-ever Mercury pics.
You can see a 5.3-kilometer / 3.3-mile-wide area showing the southeast rim of the 17.6 kilometer / 10.9-mile-wide Bechet Crater, within the north polar Borealis Quadrangle in the northern hemisphere on Mercury. Bechet Crater is located within what space scientists call the northern polar intercrater lava plains near the north pole on Mercury.
This is a subframe image a partial frame at full resolution. The scene shows a smoother portion on the wall of Bechet Crater, with a texture that indicates an area that will one day slump.
On September 12, 2014, the MESSENGER spacecraft periherm – the closest point to Mercury – was successfully raised from 24.3 kilometers / 15.1 miles to 94 kilometers / 58.4 miles, extending the mission further.
Periherm was also raised again on October 24, 2014 from 26 kilometers / 16.1 miles to 185.2 kilometers / 115.1 miles.
There will be one more lift of MESSENGER’s orbit on January 21, 2015, when the fuel on board MESSENGER is expected to be depleted.
MESSENGER is expected to impact Mercury on the weekend of March 28-29, 2015.
Andrew R. Brown, an avid follower of the space program, writes frequently about space topics for EarthSky. Over several years, he has also suggested observations that were carried out by imaging teams of some space missions. He has lives in Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom and works for local government, Kent County Council.