Mercury Orbiter to Eye the Earth, Look for Moons
NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft will capture images of Earth on July 19 and 20.
The images on the second day will also include pictures of the Moon where all six of the Apollo landing sites will be illuminated, 44 years to the day after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon’s rocky surface.
On both days nearly half of the Earth, including all the Americas, Africa, and Europe, will be illuminated and facing MESSENGER that’s now orbiting the planet Mercury. Researchers on the project note, however, that the images taken will show two bright dots – the Earth and its Moon.
These images of Earth and the Moon are coincidental, taken as part of a search for natural satellites around Mercury. Of all the planets, only Venus and Mercury have no known moons.
Earth has one moon, and Mars has two. Jupiter and Saturn have dozens each; and even tiny Pluto – although not now considered a planet — is known to have five moons.
MESSENGER began orbiting Mercury in March 2011.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.
Sean Solomon, the Director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator.