This is a false color image of a mosaic of Mercury.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA.
Mercury's orbit is so close to the Sun that it is difficult to see from
the ground. This
explains why some early astronomers
never saw the planet. Viewed from Earth, Mercury is never far from
the Sun in the sky. Because of the glare of the Sun, it can only be
seen in twilight.
Timocharis made the first recorded observation of
Mercury in 265 BC. Other early astronomers that studied Mercury
include Zupus (1639), who studied the planet's orbit. Because it
is so difficult to make out features on the surface of the planet
from Earth, it was not until the 1960s that scientists determined the
correct day length rate (59 Earth days) of the planet on its axis.
This also showed that Mercury's day length and year length
are the same.
The one and only space mission to visit
which passed by the planet three times in 1974. Images taken by
Mariner 10 are the only close up images we have of the planet's
surface. NASA will send the Messenger (the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) to Mercury in 2004.
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