NASA spacecraft shows pock-marked Mercury up close

By Seth Borenstein

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 1:11 p.m. MDT

This image provided by NASA is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System's innermost planet, Mercury. The image was captured early this morning, at 5:20 a.m. EDT,Tuesday March 29, 2011. The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy. The bottom portion of this image is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft. On March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011, UTC), MESSENGER became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury.

NASA, Associated Press

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NEW YORK — The first batch of hundreds of photos taken in orbit of Mercury show numerous battle scars on the tiny planet. They are from space rocks regularly pelting Mercury at high speeds, scientists said.

NASA's Messenger spacecraft, the first to orbit Mercury, reveals a pock-marked planet full of craters from pieces of asteroids and comets. Mission chief scientist Sean Solomon said that what is surprising to scientists so far is that there are more secondary craters than expected. Those are craters created by the falling soil kicked up from space rock collisions.

Solomon said the craters look different from those on the moon because the space rocks are moving faster and hit Mercury harder.

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