Explanation: What would it be like to fly over the planet Mercury? Images and data taken from NASA’s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015 have been digitally combined to envision a virtual flight that highlights much of the hot planet’s surface. In general, the Solar System’s innermost world appears similar to Earth’s Moon as it is covered by a heavily cratered gray terrain. MESSENGER discovered much about Mercury including that shadows near its poles likely host water ice. The featured video opens as Mercury is viewed from the Sun-facing side and concludes with the virtual spacecraft retreating into Mercury’s night. Mercury actually rotates so slowly that it only completes three rotations for every two trips around the Sun. In 2018, Europe and Japan plan to launch BepiColombo to better map Mercury’s surface and probe its magnetic field.
Tomorrow’s picture: seasonal sky