First ever orbital image of Mercury

The picture shows the south polar region of Mercury, with a 53-mile wide crater known as Debussy clearly visible at the top

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft took the photo at 0920 GMT yesterday, becoming the first probe to return an image while in orbit around Mercury. It was a significant moment for the team after Messenger became the first spacecraft to ever enter orbit around this largely unknown planet on 17 March, promising to return unprecedented data on the planet nearest the Sun.

The journey to Mercury has taken Messenger six and a half years. After six flybys (one of Earth, two of Venus and three of Mercury) the spacecraft finally reached the necessary speed to remain in elliptical orbit around the planet. Mercury will spend one year studying Mercury from orbit, mapping the entire planet in the process by taking 75,000 images.