Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1999 January 2 - Mercury: A Cratered Inferno
Explanation: Mercury's surface looks similar to our Moon's. Each is heavily cratered and made of rock. Mercury's diameter is about 4800 km, while the Moon's is slightly less at about 3500 km (compared with about 12,700 km for the Earth). But Mercury is unique in many ways. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, orbiting at about 1/3 the radius of the Earth's orbit. As Mercury slowly rotates, its surface temperature varies from an unbearably cold -180 degrees Celsius to an unbearably hot 400 degrees Celsius. The place nearest the Sun in Mercury's orbit changes slightly each orbit - a fact used by Albert Einstein to help verify the correctness of his then newly discovered theory of gravity: General Relativity. The above picture was taken by the only spacecraft ever to pass Mercury: Mariner 10 in 1974.
APOD: 1997 September 13 - Southwest Mercury
Explanation: The planet Mercury resembles a moon. Mercury's old surface is heavily cratered like many moons. Mercury is larger than most moons but smaller than Jupiter's moon Ganymede and Saturn's moon Titan. Mercury is much denser and more massive than any moon, though, because it is made mostly of iron. In fact, the Earth is the only planet more dense. A visitor to Mercury's surface would see some strange sights. Because Mercuryrotates exactly three times every two orbits around the Sun, and because Mercury's orbit is so elliptical, a visitor to Mercury might see the Sun rise, stop in the sky, go back toward the rising horizon, stop again, and then set quickly over the other horizon. From Earth, Mercury's proximity to the Sun cause it to be visible only for a short time just after sunset or just before sunrise.
APOD: 1999 November 19 - Mercury and the Sun
Explanation: Just days before the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, skywatchers were offered another astronomical treat as planet Mercury crossed the face of the Sun on November 15. Viewed from planet Earth, a transit of Mercury is not all that rare. The last occurred in 1993 and the next will happen in 2003. Enjoying a mercurial transit does require an appropriately filtered telescope, still the event can be dramatic as the diminutive well-done world drifts past the dominating solar disk. This slow loading gif animation is based on images recorded by the earth-orbiting TRACE satellite. The false-color TRACE images were made in ultraviolet light and tend to show the hot gas just above the Sun's visible surface. Mercury's disk is silhouetted against the seething plasma as it follows a trajectory near the edge of the Sun.
Authors & editors:
& Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.