The Solar System's Innermost Planet Welcomes a Visitor
Mysterious Mercury, the closest planet to the sun and smallest planet in the solar system, is now being orbited by a robotic satellite for the first time in history.
NASA's MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft finally arrived after a "near perfect" (according to mission managers) orbital insertion on March 17, 2011.
This was the culmination of an epic six year, 4.9 billion mile, journey that took messenger on a gravitational roller coaster ride through the planets of the inner solar system and three flybys of Mercury, all in an effort to slow the spacecraft down as it fell deep into the sun's gravitational well.
Now that MESSENGER is comfortably in orbit, it has opened its eyes and started to photograph the surface of Mercury in glorious detail.
Here are the first photographs from Mercury orbit...