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 by
ground-based observers. 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 orbital phases, and
Schorster and Harding (1800) who studied the very
faint surface markings on the planet visible from Earth.
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 rotation rate (59 Earth days) of the planet on its axis.
This also showed that Mercury's rotation period and orbital period
are in resonance.
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. However, NASA has recently revealed a new mission to Mercury. Messenger (the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) will begin its journey to the small planet in 2004
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