Friday, February 18, 2011

A 'Family Portrait'

NASA's MESSENGER probe is on a mission to study Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun. A month from now, on March 17th, it will enter orbit around Mercury. This will be the first mission to orbit Mercury, and will be the first time that we get some Hi-Res maps of the entire globe. We will be learning about a brand new planetary surface. MESSENGER has already done a few fly-bys of Mercury, with some stunning and revealing results.

On its long and epic journey their though, MESSENGER would look back out into space, taking images. What it came up with was a family portrait of our solar system.

Click to Enlarge. Credit: NASA

All the planets are there, but unfortunately Uranus and Neptune are much too faint to see. Even though the probe is on its way to Mercury, it looks little more then a dot, because it is still very far away from pretty much everything. Everything looks like a dot from there. But there are some exciting highlights.

Venus is particularly bright because 1) it is the closest planet to the probe besides Mercury and 2) the probe is inside of its orbit, so all that sunlight is being reflected back much like the full Moon. The next planet is Earth, which is amazing, because you can see it accompanied by the Moon, not an image most people have in their heads. And then there's Jupiter, where you can clearly see a few moons. They are fairly large moons, and one of them is probably Ganymede, which is actually about the same size a Mercury! The last exciting thing is the split section between Jupiter and Mars, that fuzzy patch, that is the Milky Way, our galaxy. The Milky Way is so vast, that it appears the same from here on Earth and millions of kilometers away where MESSENGER is.

This is a nice humbling reminder of our solar system as a unit in the vastness of the Universe. In a way, it is our new Pale Blue Dot. A view of our solar system as we just begin to leave the Earth and explore our little neighborhood, the solar system. Carl Sagan would be proud.

This is also a great time for this picture to be released to, because right now is NASA's Year of the Solar System. Celebrating all the missions for solar exploration going on right now, and there are a lot of them. From Mercury to Pluto, there is something going on. It is going to be a pretty exciting year (actual a Martian year, for a total of 23 months) of space exploration and lots of great new discoveries. It's exciting to be part of humanity entering this new level.


32 comments:

Blog_Master_Flex said...

I can't wait to see a picture of Earth and the Moon together. I don't think I have ever seen one?

Update us with that picture in the future!

KUSHtunes said...

I find space absolutely interesting as hell. I used to be big into as a kid and now i'm just getting back into it.

Siphil said...

Very cool picture. There has been a lot of space news lately. Have you heard about the Kepler telescope finding all those planets?

fabio_2007 said...

I also find space very interesting
keep on the great work

Paddock Webfoot said...

Just what keeps us so alive
Just what makes us realize
Our home is our world, our life

.< You are here.

Buckaroopopcorn said...

Seriously exciting. I can't wait to see the images and what cockamamie new ideas this mission generates.

Lost.in.Idaho said...

Hopefully it doesn't *cough* crash into the planet or something...

Astronomy Pirate said...

@Siphil Yeah, Kepler is one of the most exciting projects going on right now. It did find a bunch of planets, but there is still a lot of data to go through, and they released some of it to the public to help look for stuff. There is even a easy to use site called Planethunters.org where you can look at data and help out.

fulano tal said...

wow! That was a very nice picture that the messenger took! With all the planets in just one image :)
Just like a family picture.

LiveTheBoss said...

Very interesting. Maybe one of those cameras can catch a UFO?

Ahy said...

Working for the NASA would be awesome. These guys sure love their jobs.

Astronomy Pirate said...

@Boss, the fact that there have already been so many cameras in space an no UFOs seen pretty much rules out their existence.

Bring_Napkins said...

About time, I was always wondering why Mercury was never studied in-depth, compared to other planets like Mars.

Xannissa said...

I cant wait to see all the pictures because you know its going to take a picture of something unexpected or something awesome that we have never seen before

Salman A said...

This is quite a picture. I'm surprised that all of those images were taken and able to be put together to make a nice look at our other planets. Mercury's surface can actually help scientists a lot in terms of determining which planets are habitable in space by their relative distance to their respective stars. Great post.

'Auana said...

thats so cool, so basically it was a planetary recon mission?

Astronomy Pirate said...

@'Auana, its a recon mission to Mercury, yes. But this was just a little side project that happened on the probes way there.

Port Forward King said...

That is truly amazing I cant wait to see what else this bring forward.

Niko said...

wow that's pretty good.

Raw said...

That is an amazing picture.
Excellent post, thanks!

Scott said...

Space is absolutely one of the most interesting topics around.

Alan said...

our world is so amazing

Feirny said...

i agree with that scott kid. bloody epic this topic about the unknown

Tracerz said...

Awesome! On March 17, I will have to drink a beer for MESSENGER beginning to orbit Mercury. =D

cooperlife said...

the solar system family portrait makes them look like a closer family that my own family.

metalpark_73192 said...

Is this the first time we'll get pics from Mercury?

mmmpieohyeah said...

really cooli images, can't wait for the details on mercury

Astronomy Pirate said...

@metalpark, No, these aren't the first, but they will be the closest and the best. Mariner 10 flew by Mercury in the early 70s, so our return trip has been a long time coming. And rather then a fly by, MESSENGER will actually orbit Mercury.

thatguy said...

For some reason this reminds me of Cartographer maps from Minecraft. haha

Leviuqse said...

I always find space fascinating!
i have a video in my blog of how big the universe is

Daily Music said...

wow didn't know this.
thanks for the info

kgp318 said...

Muhaha...evil/cute cats...

I have 3

As you already know

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