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Space Photos of the Week: Transit of Mercury

Of all the planets in our solar system, Mercury may be the most underrated. It does not have nice swirling clouds or rings or flowers. It doesn't even have an atmosphere. However, this small rocky body has a history of volcanism and even has water ice in its craters. Mercury is also locked in a special resonance with Jupiter (think of it as a billion-year-old dance partner), and there is a chance many millions of years from now that Mercury will lose its balance and be thrown out of the solar system and perhaps take Mars out on the way.

Just this week, our innermost planet got its moment when it made a rare transit and passed in front of the sun in just the right line so that people on earth could see it. That will not happen again until 2032. Only two spacecraft have ever visited lil Mercury: Mariner 1

0 1974 and 1975 and NASA's Messenger mission that revolved around Mercury from 2011 to 2015 when it was debrided and crashed into the surface. This week we will become a little more familiar with the inner world of the solar system.

If you look at the lower left corner of this image of our sun, you see a small black dot. Say hello to Mercury! On Monday, November 11, it began to cross between earth and sun for the first time in several years. (Sure it looks very small here, but everything looks a little beside the sun.) Photography: Bill Ingalls / NASA
When NASA's MESSENGER mission was in orbit around Mercury the photos of the planet in outstanding detail, including this photo of the edge of the Rembrant Basin. At 445 miles across, Rembrant is the largest pool on the surface, and the long seam running down the center of the image is a function of plate actonics. NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington [19659006] Mercury & # 39; s Dominici Crater "class =" responsive-image__image "src =" https://media.wired.com/photos/ 5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4 / master / w_1600% 2Cc_limit / photo_space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg "srcset =" https://media.wired.com/photos/5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4/master/w_1600%2Cc_limit/photo_space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg 1600w, https://media.wired.com/ Photos / 5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4 / master / w_1280% 2Cc_limit / photo_space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg 1280w, 1024w https://media.wired.com/photos/5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4/master/w_1024%2Cc_limit/photo_space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg, https://media.wired.com/ photos / 5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4 / master / w_768% 2Cc_limit / photo_space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg 768w, https://media.wired.com/photos/5dcf9a9b4672dd0008e034a4/master/ _space_mercury_GSFC_20171208_Archive_e001870_orig.jpg 640w "sizes =" 100vw "/>
The bright crater at the top of the image is called Dominici crater. Whatever hit the surface, it hit hard enough to send ejecta material out over the planet, revealing the volcanic debris and lighter material below. The entire basin has been filled with lava from volcanoes, so meteorite strikes like these that stir up dirt and rocks can help scientists get some clues as to what kind of material is beneath the surface. NASA Goddard
This fake color image of the Caloris Basin shows old lava in orange and materials that have been stirred up by meteorite strikes in deeper purple. Researchers in the MESSENGER team planned this photo for when the sun and spaceship were directly up. Talk about using a natural light source to take pictures: The brightness of the sun meant that the instruments and camera at MESSENGER were able to gather clear, detailed data. NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington
This is MESSENGER, our spaceship du jour. The planet Mercury is named after the Greek budget god, but NASA rarely does something that is not also an acronym. MESSENGER stands for MErcury Surface, Space EN Environment, GEochemistry and Ranging. During his four years in orbit around Mercury, not only did MESSENGER discover evidence of ancient volcanism on Mercury, but it also found water ice in the craters. KSC

As you await the next Mercury transit, take a look at the rest of the space photos collection here.

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