The MESSENGER spacecraft will make its first flyby of Mercury today at 2:04:39 pm EST!! This image of Mercury was taken yesterday on January 13 when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 760,000 kilometers (470,000 miles) from Mercury. Mercury is about 4880 kilometers (about 3030 miles) in diameter, and the smallest feature visible in this image is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) across.
MESSENGER will begin to transmit the new data to Earth once all of the scientific measurements are completed, about 22 hours after the spacecraft's closest approach to Mercury. These flyby data will shed light on fundamental scientific questions related to the formation and evolution of the planet Mercury. As scientists analyze the data, the MESSENGER spacecraft will continue on its planned journey, which includes two more encounters of Mercury in October 2008 and September 2009, before entering an orbit around Mercury in March 2011.
Additional information and features from this first flyby will be available online at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu