This January 19th, the planet Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation of 24.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
At 3:30pm ET on April 30, 2015, and after four years of studying, NASA’s Messenger Probe crashlanded the surface of Mercury. After being in service for more than a decade, it is the first vehicle to ever make it to Mercury. However, it didn’t leave without saying goodbye.
The MESSENGER spacecraft has been orbiting Mercury for some time. A few weeks ago it snapped this image (left) of the northern region of the Caloris basin. A strange, elevated land formation captured at just the right angle bears a striking resemblance to the smuggler who “can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” or “is a stuck-up scruffy-looking nerf-hearder” (depending on who you ask).
Scientists think that this part of Mercury’s surface may have been part of the original terrain from before the basin was formed (most likely by a large impact event).
Seeing a familiar shape in random landforms is all in good fun, and examples of this have hit headlines other times before (think the “Face on Mars”). The official term for it is pareidolia.
- Han Solo Found on Mercury, Still in Carbonite (neatorama.com)
- NASA Finds ‘Han Solo Encased In Carbonite’ On The Surface Of Mercury (PICTURE) (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
Hopefully you were able to see Mercury in the twilight sky over the weekend! Now see the first planet from the Sun up close… This awesome image was taken by the Messenger Spacecraft a few weeks ago. The border between the night and day sides of a planet is called its terminator. Look closely at the image… Notice in some of the craters there are central peaks. These happen when objects smash into the surface with exceptional force, this causes the land to deform downward then back upward again. (Imagine a droplet falling into a glass of water). Messenger is studying the topography of Mercury using lasers. Remember how Mercury wasn’t very bright in the sky? In this image you can see that Mercury’s surface is rough and somewhat dark, you can see that Mercury is not a very shiny planet.