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On March 17, 2011, MESSENGER became the first spacecraft ever to enter Mercury’s orbit. The probe continued to orbit the planet once every 12 hours for the duration of its four-year mission. Watch this animation to view the Mercury orbit insertion maneuver and the spacecraft’s first orbit around the planet.

Orbit insertion animation on APL MESSENGER site (.mov)
release date: 2011

This animation shows the expected spacecraft orientation, thruster activity, and location relative to Mercury during the Mercury orbit insertion maneuver. The first few days after orbit insertion will be focused on ensuring that the spacecraft systems are all working well in the harsh thermal environment of orbit.

Spacecraft orientation animation on APL MESSENGER site (.mov)

release date: 2011

This animation illustrates the motion of the field of view of the Visible and Infrared Spectrograph (VIRS) channel of MASCS. Once the spacecraft finishes its slew, it executes an observing program that carries the VIRS field of view across the sunlit surface of Mercury (green). At a selected number of targets, the spacecraft rotates to freeze the field of view long enough for the Ultraviolet and Visible Spectrometer to acquire a complete ultraviolet spectrum (yellow).

Launch Video (.mov)

release date: 9/28/2009

As MESSENGER crosses the terminator, it first briefly slews the instruments’ fields of view above the planet. It next executes a series of targeted observations. Blue flashes show when camera images are taken. Green lines outline the smaller, pinpoint field of view of MASCS.

Launch Video (.mov)

release date: 9/28/2009

Download PDF summary of MASCS observations
‘Departure Observing Plan’ for the September 29 flyby.

During Flyby 3, MESSENGER will specifically target for detailed spectral analysis by the MASCS instrument. A summary of the scientific significance of these targets is summarized. The above movies illustrate the observing program that the spacecraft and instruments will execute just after closest approach. ‘Flashes’ in the videos indicate the ‘image frames’ from the camera that provides geological context for the MASCS observations.

Download .PDF

View the APOD MESSENGER video
Astronomy Picture of the Day – 2013 June 12

Explanation: For the first time, the entire surface of planet Mercury has been mapped. Detailed observations of the innermost planet’s surprising crust have been ongoing since the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft first passed Mercury in 2008 and began orbiting in 2011. Previously, much of the Mercury’s surface was unknown as it is too far for Earth-bound telescopes to see clearly, while the Mariner 10 flybys in the 1970s observed only about half. The above video is a compilation of thousands of images of Mercury rendered in exaggerated colors to better contrast different surface features. Visible on the rotating world are rays emanating from a northern impact that stretch across much of the planet, while about half-way through the video the light colored Caloris Basin rotates into view, a northern ancient impact feature that filled with lava. MESSENGER has now successfully completed its primary and first extended missions. (text courtesy NASA: