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For Immediate Release
March 29, 2011

Media Contact:

Paulette W. Campbell
(240) 228-6792
Paulette.Campbell@jhuapl.edu

MESSENGER Sends Back First Image of Mercury from Orbit

MESSENGER has delivered its first image since entering orbit about Mercury on March 17. It was taken today at 5:20 am EDT by the Mercury Dual Imaging System as the spacecraft sailed high above Mercury's south pole, and provides a glimpse of portions of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft. The image was acquired as part of the orbital commissioning phase of the MESSENGER mission. Continuous global mapping of Mercury will begin on April 4.

"The entire MESSENGER team is thrilled that spacecraft and instrument checkout has been proceeding according to plan," says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "The first images from orbit and the first measurements from MESSENGER's other payload instruments are only the opening trickle of the flood of new information that we can expect over the coming year. The orbital exploration of the Solar System's innermost planet has begun."

Several other images will be available Wednesday, March 30, in conjunction with a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT to discuss the initial orbital images taken from the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. Media teleconference participants are:
-- Sean Solomon, MESSENGER principal investigator, Carnegie Institution of Washington
-- Eric Finnegan, MESSENGER mission systems engineer, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel. Md.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact Dwayne Brown at dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov or 202-358-1726 for dial-in instructions. During the teleconference, MESSENGER information and images will be available at http://www.nasa.gov/messenger and http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/news_room/presscon8.html.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's website at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio.

For complete information on MESSENGER's Mercury orbital operations, go online to http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/mer_orbit.html.

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and after flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury will start a yearlong study of its target planet in March 2011. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu