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  Hello, Mercury!Mar 31, 2011 9:35 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Kind of awash in a sea of gray here, ah well.
 
Hey speaking of seas of gray, the MESSENGER spacecraft now orbiting Mercury has started sending back its first photos of the planet from orbit, and they are pretty neat. Here's the very first, in black and white and then in color:
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
Those are taken by the craft's WAC ("Wide Angle Camera"--the other camera it has is the NAC, "Narrow Angle Camera"), and the color it is capable of is pretty interesting: according to the caption here, the WAC can image in 11 colors, taking one at a time by selectively sampling from a specific wavelength of light with a special filter--for instance, they assign red, green, and blue to wavelengths of 1000 nm, 750 nm, and 430 nm, respectively. Then they combine them together for a full color image, although they "only" use eight of the eleven wavelengths normally.
 
The crater there is named Debussy, which according to Wikipedia is 85 km in diameter (NASA says it is 80). This AP article about the first photos says that the scientists have been surprised by how many secondary craters are visible on the surface--those are craters not from an initial hit by an asteroid, but by the fragments that initial hit produces--and how big they are: up to 15 miles across, which is "much bigger" than secondary craters on the Moon; one surmise is that this is due to objects moving faster when they hit Mercury, because they're deeper in the Sun's gravitational field--ie, they're falling faster toward the Sun than they are when they're out by us.
 
Debussy is near Mercury's south polar region, that darker area near the bottom of the photos. Here's a closer shot of Debussy:
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
(The above three are larger on their source pages; also, kudos to NASA for uploading them as lossless (presumably!) PNG files rather than jpgs. :)
 
Here's what they call a nice fresh crater, since the rim is still sharp, with little erosion, and it has retained a nice bowl shape, unlike larger craters whose rims tend to collapse under their own weight:
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
And here are various types of terrain in an area of Mercury's north polar region that hadn't been seen before (neither by Earth-based telescope, nor by Mariner 10 in the 70's):
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
Image
image by NASA (source)
 
One of MESSENGER's primary missions will be to look for and study any ices that may survive in the shadowy basins of those polar craters.
 

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Closer to home, my dad has scored me a second art show, this one at the Rosebud Restaurant & Bar in Seattle's ultra-hip Capital Hill district. Neat. We're trucking a bunch of framed and signed prints (of stuff from A*, and my other comics) over there tomorrow for them to hang up, and hopefully I'll be able to get a bit more info on how soon they'll be up (sounded like very soon) and for how long (at least a month). They're the same images we showed at the last show, in Ballard in November-December--minus a few we sold, of course :D--so if you saw them there, you're all caught up already. ;)
 
 
 
 
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