Flyby

This image has got me all excited (click for full size version).

This is Mercury, and not only that but the first time we have ever seen this side of the planet nearest to the Sun. Yeah, OK it looks like the Moon. We have only ever visited Mercury once and that was a flyby 33 years ago and that only managed to see one side of the planet. The latest mission, Messenger, will eventually go into orbit in 2011 but it did its first flyby on Tuesday and imaged part of the side we have never seen.

Mercury is my favourite planet, not the most visually interesting planet clearly, but it’s elusive, mysterious and difficult to observe. You will have seen my photos of it in my gallery no doubt. It’s also interesting in that it is very dense, has a magnetic field and a thin atmosphere. It could hold the key to how the inner planets, including the Earth, formed. Many more images from this flyby will be released in the coming days and we expect exciting times in 2011.

This all helps towards material for the main speaker talk I’m giving at the Maidenhead Astronomical Society in May on Mercury as well!