look at this image.... what do you see?
at first glance, it looks like our moon! there are craters, straight lines of stuff thrown out from the meteorite impacts that caused the craters, light spots, darker patches, etc...
but this is not our moon, its the closest planet to our sun... mercury! this is one of the first images from the MESSENGER spacecraft as it orbits our inner solar system (of course MESSENGER is an acronymn: MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging). this is also the first detailed image humans have seen of the surface of mercury since the Mariner 10 spacecraft flew by 35 years ago!
the image was taken two days ago on monday, january 14, 2008 at a distance from the planet of 27,000 kilometers (about 17,000 miles) and can resolve things as small as 10 kilometers (6 miles) in size!
some major questions the MESSENGER spacecraft hopes to help us answer include why mercury is so dense, what mercury's magnetic fields are like, and what are the unusual materials at mercury's poles? mercury's poles are never fully in or out of sunlight. the light grazes the tops of the craters, but the deep insides remain dark..... expect at radar wavelengths. the fact that these inner crater regions of the poles reflect radar wavelengths, could be indicative of the presence of water ice! why and how could water ice survive so close to the sun?!
more exciting insights from the MESSENGER spacecraft soon!