Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, never really has had a great picture taken of it. There are a number of reasons for this, such as:
- It never gets more than 28 degrees away from the Sun, meaning we get two hours after sunset — max — to look at it.
- Because the sky is still light, it’s very hard to get a good resolution image from the ground.
- Because of its proximity to the Sun, operators refuse to point space telescopes (like Hubble) towards Mercury, for fear of frying the telescope.
- Mercury is far away and tiny, making for a disastrous photographic combination.
From Earth, this is the best picture we’ve ever taken of Mercury, courtesy of Boston University:
No joke. That’s not impressive at all, is it? Nevertheless, we sent a spacecraft, Mariner 10, to it in 1974/5. Mariner 10 took some great images, which we then processed, cleaned up, and stitched together into a giant mosaic, giving us a glimpse of our Sun’s closest companion:
With Messenger up and running, it was only a matter of time before we got a new, superior look. Thanks to Jason Perry, we now have a new image of Mercury, illuminating nearly a full disc of the planet and made from 66 separate high-resolution images. You can click the picture below to enlarge it.