Crater Cunningham

Mercury's crater Cunningham.  Click for larger. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury’s crater Cunningham. Click for larger. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Check out the detail on this crater called Cunningham on the planet Mercury. The image was of course taken by the MESSENGER spacecraft.

By the way, the MESSENGER spacecraft recently completed its 2,000th orbit of Mercury. Talk about resilient, this spacecraft goes from the blazing sunny side of the planet which is over 600oF (300oC) to the frigid dark side which is in the vicinity of -300oF (-185oC).

I learned a really cool new word too, from the MESSENGER website:

From May 6 to May 14, MESSENGER traversed a superior solar conjunction, during which the spacecraft was on the far side of the Sun from Earth. Scientists used the opportunity to measure the characteristics of the solar magnetic field from the Faraday rotation of its radio-frequency carrier.

“We found the orientation of the magnetic field within a coronal mass ejection (CME) that crossed the line of sight on May 10,” says Elizabeth Jensen, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. “We saw the rotation of the plane of polarization of MESSENGER’s radio-frequency signal as it moved deeper into the corona, giving information on the Sun’s magnetic field configuration on May 11; and on May 12, we saw magnetohydrodynamic waves, a very important mode of energy transfer in the corona.”

Magnetohydrodynamic, I like that, but I digress.

Cunningham has a diameter of 24 miles/38 km and sports an extensive ray system which you can see at this image at the MESSENGER website.

The resolution of this image is 30 meters/pixel and you might notice the crater features seem to look different than similar craters you’ve seen on our moon. If you did, good job, you would be correct. Mercury has more mass than the moon and gravity plays its part so the features are a bit muted in comparison.

Mercury is kind of an odd place too, one Mercury day last’s about two Mercury years. Mercury has the smallest tilt of any planet and it is the most eccentric of all the planets (no pun intended). what does that mean? Simply put it means that it travels further away from the Sun at one end of its orbit than the other – think of it as off-center in its orbit and MORE so than any of the other planets, which are all a little “off-center”.

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