First Contact With Mercury
We’ve made contact with Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. This photograph—which was taken yesterday, March 29, 2011 at 5:20am EDT—shows the surface of the innermost planet of the Solar System with unprecedented detail. It was taken by NASA’s Messenger, the first human-made spaceship to orbit this tiny, battered, and scorched rock. From Gizmodo:
Messenger—MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging—will now begin to map and study the planet in detail, following the work of Mariner 10. Mariner was the first space probe to obtain images of Mercury while flying by it in 1975. Messenger, however, will orbit the planet acquiring tons of information about its composition, geological history and magnetic field.
Messenger has plenty of questions to answer while in orbit: like how a planet that routinely reaches 800º F can have polar ice caps, and how Mercury can have large amounts of water in its exosphere. NASA will be continually publishing its findings from the mission.