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NASA Space Science

Messenger Probe Sends Back Mercury Photos 137

arbitraryaardvark writes "NASA's Messenger probe flew past Mercury at a distance of 125 miles. The spacecraft took hundreds of pictures during the pass, updating photos from the now 30-year-old Mariner mission. According to an article at the International Business Times, the probe will eventually settle into orbit around Mercury in 2011. 'The images obtained by the $446 million MESSENGER mission (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) this week contain some of those unexplored areas. One image released Saturday was taken after Messenger made its closest approach to Mercury last week. In the photos released this week, scientists have observed unexplored cratered areas of the planet. On Monday, Messenger made its closest approach to Mercury yet, aiming for new discoveries. Among its goals is to discover if Mercury has ice water in its polar craters and to complete the mapping of the whole planet.' Meanwhile here on Earth, a joint EU/Japan probe with an ion drive is set to head towards Mercury sometime in 2013."
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Messenger Probe Sends Back Mercury Photos

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  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @07:43PM (#22121042) Homepage
    Leave it to the engineers at NASA: It's not enough that the probe is going to send messages back from an alien world. It's not enough that the world in question is Mercury, who was the messenger of the Roman gods. No. They have to make it an acronym.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:15PM (#22121326)
      Real engineers wouldn't care if it was called project 11-A-004. Likely the name came for manager/spin-people spending hours and hours in meetings and focus groups, costing tax payers about $5.7 million.
      • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:43PM (#22121544) Homepage Journal
        And yet, would it be funded by Congress if it didn't get an easy-to-remember name? Would the USAPATRIOT act have been voted up to the White House if it was simply voted on as HR3162 or "Ashcroft's Wet Dream Panopticon Act of 2001"? Sometimes it takes a bit of focus testing and a shiny veneer of shinola to get approval from those who have the power but not the understanding.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Joe Tie. ( 567096 )
        Engineers seem to be at the top of groups 'most' often afflicted with bad pun syndrome, so I wouldn't put it past them.
    • by sanman2 ( 928866 )
      Where's the damn color? I don't understand why after all these decades, it's so hard for them to take color photos. Just slap a damn Sony camcorder on there if you have to, and take some regular color pictures, to show what our own eyes would perceive if we were there.
      • by solitas ( 916005 )
        Eh - color, shmolor. Rocks are rocks.

        HOWEVER, I think it would REALLY kick ass if they could correlate the old photos with the new ones and look for signs of changes on the surface!
      • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @10:17PM (#22122238) Journal
        Where's the damn color? I don't understand why after all these decades, it's so hard for them to take color photos.

        They probably didn't have time to take many images of the same spots through multiple filters. However, when the probe eventually settles into orbit in the coming years, they will be able to start such an endeavor.

        Different filters are primarily to study chemical composition, but can also be used to make nifty color images (like this moon one) [].

        In short, be patient. This mission has only just begun...
        • by solitas ( 916005 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @11:29PM (#22122694)
          A similar hyper-color image of the Moon (that makes a nice desktop/background): []
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Tablizer ( 95088 )
            I should note that the link I gave did not use color filters, but rather regular color photography, and stacked up several dozens in order to tease the color out. One advantage of filters is that you can capture more colors and wavelength range than the human eye can see. (Theoretically color film like that could be made, but it would be useless for consumer use, unless you are a bird or a fish.)
            • Theoretically color film like that could be made, but it would be useless for consumer use

              Actually, it is made. The two approaches are for it to be greyscale and only represent e.g. UV or IR, or to shift the colour channels (for example, UV = blue, Blue = green, Green = red, with actual red light not being represented in the photograph).
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ianare ( 1132971 )
        From what this page [] says, these will be turned to color images later. They take the same picture at 10 different wavelengths then combine them to make a color image.
      • I don't have any evidence for this, but I have two ideas that may explain it:

        1. I suspect that being that close to the sun, there will be one color that is overpowering the others.
        2. The heat from the sun may have made the surface pretty uniform, there may not be any real coloration to speak of on the surface.

        Just my guesses, maybe a more knowledgeable slashdotter can give a more complete answer.
    • by CougMerrik ( 1221450 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @11:43PM (#22122826)

      "(MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging)"

      That is one of the most ridiculous abuses of acronym creation I have ever seen.
    • Mariner 10 three flybys within two years of its 1973 launch. MESSENGER will take almost seven years. However it will have slowed down enough for orbital capture.
    • Leave it to PCM2 to reuse the same line from December 20th []. This is Slashdot. Didn't you think anyone would remember? On the other hand, given this site's penchant for duping (even on the same day!), I guess not...
  • submitted story was just:
    NASA's Messenger probe flew by Mercury 125 miles away and took pictures, updating 30 year old pioneer 10 photos. Messenger will orbit Mercury in 2011. The ion drive European/Japanese ship doesn't launch till 2013. Wired Bad Astronomer. (y'know, with some some links in there.)
  • by Vthornheart ( 745224 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @07:59PM (#22121200) []

    NASA says that crater looks like it has a phone shape in it. The first thing I thought was "Damnit, someone put a copyright on Mercury."
    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
      I agree, it's a -lot- closer to a copyright symbol than a phone. They seem to be so determined to make it look like something that they miss the obvious.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        This IP sh!t has got to stop.

        It must be the same people who make custom planets like Magrathea. It appears to be one of the rejects as there was a fault in the planetary raw material processing unit when the mantle was being poured. You know, "Segmentation fault - CORE DUMPED". It would be a pisser to see the photoshots on the next flyby reveal the "Made in Taiwan" imprint.

        Downmodding proves veracity beyond question. Not responsible for soy latte spat on keyboard or excretory incontinence.
    • The first thing I thought was "Damnit, someone put a copyright on Mercury."
      this is most definitely proof of intelligent design. LOOK! God even put a copyright on it!
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      NASA says that crater looks like it has a phone shape in it. The first thing I thought was "Damnit, someone put a copyright [symbol] on Mercury."

      Just wait 'til we find the "Made in China" label. Sputnik's scare will look wimpy in comparison.
    • by Himring ( 646324 )
      That phone is obviously evidence of intelligent life. It was surely used by the same aliens who did the face on mars.... It is probably how the two planets communicated with each other....
    • Turn the image around. See? It's licensed under a Creative Commons' license!
  • First time I heard about sending a probe to mercury.. I would have thought that would be the least interesting of the planets round these parts. With operations as expensive as these, wouldn't they want to focus their resources on Mars or something?
    • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @08:21PM (#22121384)
      I imagine that many people thought the same about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, until Voyager started sending back pictures of Europa and Io. You never know where the next big insight is going to come from, and Mercury's had little enough attention for it to be worth a look. Mars is pretty substantially covered. That said, in the current funding climate (NASA's had to cancel projects left, right, and centre due to cuts to its thin post-Iraq budget), nobody would approve a mission to a rock like Mercury.
    • by cnettel ( 836611 )
      Considering the problems of the seafloor, at this point we have better maps of Mars than Earth. A lot of effort has been spent on Mars. Meanwhile, Mercury, Venus and Pluto are all more or less unexplored. For Venus, even sending probes don't help us too far, go inside the atmosphere and the equipment is destroyed, stay outside and you don't see all that much. Pluto and Mercury, well, it's just a matter of getting around to actually go there. I think it's wise to do so now. I find the simple prospect of poss
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
      Someone added it up and Mars currently has something like thirteen craft either on, orbiting or enroute to it.

      Mercury got three flybys a couple decades a ago, and a hefty chunk of it has never even been seen. What makes Mars so much more interesting than Mercury, besides the fact that it's closer and we might be able to put some astronauts on it?
      • by Wicko ( 977078 )
        Those reasons you gave alone make it more interesting, IMO. But aside from those, I think mercury is the least interesting, from what I can recall about it.. but I guess it might be the easiest to reach rather than something like jupiter's/saturn's satellites.
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
          Maybe most interesting, but so much more interesting that we should send dozens of probes to it and completely neglect other targets? If so then maybe we shouldn't send anything to Saturn or the asteroids either.

          There are interesting things about Mercury. To start with, it has a magnetic field and nobody has really figured out why that should be.
        • Just because we can put people somewhere doesn't make a place more interesting. Mercury has a lot of interesting features, for instance, it's the densest planet, it has a magnetic field (it really shouldn't since its core has likely cooled and solidified long ago), it had a giant impact that caused ridges to form all the way on the other side of the planet et c. Furthermore, it's actually harder to get things in orbit around Mercury due to the fact that it's so close to the sun, this is why the first pass
        • Consider this...Mercury formed closest to the sun, meaning the lighter weight elements were more likely either blown away by solar wind, or absorbed by the sun's formation before Mercury was sizable. That means Mercury is probly higher in heavier elements.
          That makes Mercury a richer target for eventual mining of rare metals as a part of building economically self-sustaining space colonies.
          Mars has soil that won't grow Earth plants easily, enuf atmosphere and gravity to be a pita to spacecraft and too lit
  • Typical space news (Score:1, Interesting)

    by a_claudiu ( 814111 )
    Am I the only one annoyed about the space news always being something like "xxx mil./bil. $ space stuff was lunched or did something"? I do not recall this kind of obsessive, "not once missed" remark on other type of news. With news like this there is no wonder that people make mistakes [].
  • So close... (Score:5, Informative)

    by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @09:45PM (#22121992) Homepage
    200km, wow! As a point of reference, geosyncrhonous satellites on earth are 36,371 km high, and the best resolution earth imagery satellites are at around 500km.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      200km, wow! As a point of reference, geosyncrhonous satellites on earth are 36,371 km high, and the best resolution earth imagery satellites are at around 500km.

      It's that pesky Earth atmosphere that keeps them so far. In theory a probe could skim say 1 cm from the surface of Mercury if the aiming was accurate enough because it has no atmosphere. (Actually it has a very thin one, but I don't think its enough to affect close encounters.)
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )
      Well, that's because we have an atmosphere which would slow them down. Plus, if we want really good images we can send planes so there's not much need.
      • It does not have anything to do with atmosphere. A geosynchronous orbit means that the satellite is orbiting around the planet at the same speed as the planet is rotating around it's axis.
        • I think the grandparent poster's point is that you can't put satellites in orbit around 200km high because the atmosphere's air resistance will drag at them and they will eventually crash and burn. The figure of geosynchronous orbit was provided for comparison (now, geosync orbit is waaaay out there, and mostly interesting for communication satellites: it's way too far away for grand visual photography.)
  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday January 20, 2008 @11:07PM (#22122556) Journal
    I'm afraid the SETI people will be quite disappointed when the first extraterrestrial communication they receive is from a copyright lawyer. []

    Dan East
  • I noticed the video they made was made from about 4 images. In black and white. And the rest of the photos are in black and white as well. Is NASA still clinging on to the 60s? Why was the earth video so smooth, taken from the same probe? Why were the earth images in color? Why must all other planets out there be black and white? Normal, modern cameras can't even take black and white photos without a post processing filter these days - and I know NASA isn't using normal cameras, but still, Mercury isn't com
    • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
      Why was the earth video so smooth, taken from the same probe?

      Because the probe was only doing a video of Earth then, and not actual science.

      Why were the earth images in color?

      Because someone had already spent the time and combined multiple monochrome images (taken with different filters) into nice-looking color images.

      Why must all other planets out there be black and white?

      Because that's how you get the best scientific data (resolution, color resolution, etc)- use a monochrome camera and apply filters f

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

      The pictures are in black in white because they didn't bother yet to put together pictures from different colour filters together, which is a matter of time before that happens (which makes me wish they would just release the raw images as soon as they get it just as they do with Cassini). As for the smoothness of the approach video, we can assume that they didn't try to make a cool video as they did with the Earth but that they were just trying to get a few shots on the first side of Mercury, and keep most

    • What's a "loaddown"?
    • are almost always "black and white" and color is obtained by rotating different color filters in front for several shots. The different colored shots are combined to get color images.
      "False color" is used (most often) when the images are taken in frequencies human eyes can't see, and so the data are adjusted bring out signif features.
      The lack of smoothness, and use of few frames, is probly cuz this was a flyby, not final approach to orbit. Flybys occur at much higher speeds, and there's less time, so fe
  • If you carefully study all the awesome pictures, one may realize that this must be the most boring planet. Ever.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday January 21, 2008 @12:00PM (#22127042)
    The great thing about NASA is they now release raw photos on the web within days. The ESA only releases occasional publicity photos from its Mars and Venus orbitors. They have a one-year embargo so the scientists can publish results first. That was NASA's policy too a long time ago. ESA might be doing interesting stuff, but nobody's going to hear about it.

    Raw photos arent the best for scientific study. They have to have shape and lighting/color distortion corrected, and composited into larger photos or animations. NASA releases corrected photos a few months later.
  • They looked so much like low res versions of moon pictures taken by Japan, can see why they're still trying to drum up hits weeks after the flyby.

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