As NASA’s MESSENGER departed from Venus on 5 June 2007 to continue its journey towards Mercury, its Wide Angle Camera captured a sequence of 50 images (480-nm wavelength filter) showing the planet disappearing in the distance. At the start of the sequence the spacecraft was 60 688 km from the planet, by the end it was at 89 310 km. Initially, images were acquired at a rate of one of every 20 minutes and then, with increasing distance, the timing interval was increased to 60 minutes.
Besides a joint observation campaign of the planet with ESA’s Venus Express, the flyby provided the MESSENGER mission operations team with an opportunity to successfully complete a full test of the complicated series of spacecraft motions required to build up high-resolution image mosaics at Mercury.
Mariner 10 imaged only one hemisphere of Mercury in 1974-75. During the upcoming flyby, in January 2008, the MESSENGER instruments will photograph and make measurements of half of the hemisphere viewed by Mariner 10 and half of the hemisphere never before imaged by spacecraft. MESSENGER will capture the rest of the planet in subsequent flybys in October 2008 and September 2009. In March 2011 MESSENGER will be inserted into orbit about Mercury, allowing detailed observations of the planet for a full Earth year.