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Messenger goes to Mercury, finds Mickey Mouse

SCIENCE

June 19, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Craters resembling the shape of Mickey Mouse's head were photographed in Mercury's south, near the Magritte crater, according to NASA.
Craters resembling the shape of Mickey Mouse's head were photographed… (NASA / Johns Hopkins University…)

Mickey Mouse has been discovered on Mercury!NASA's Messenger probe has been orbiting Mercury since last March and delivered more than 100,000 images of the planet -- and this is the one we get excited about.

Messenger is the first spacecraft ever to orbit the planet closest to the sun. As NASA notes, this groundbreaking mission has given scientists information on the topography of the planet and the mysterious deposits at its permanently shadowed poles, as well as data on the structure of the planet's core.

And now there's Mickey.

IMAGES: Space images cooler than Mickey?

You must admit the outline of the big round ears and the pointed chin is pretty striking.  According to NASA, the image was taken at an angle that emphasized the shadowing, which threw Mickey into relief. The resemblance to the Disney character is, of course, only soil deep. 

Mickey is an "accumulation of craters over Mercury's long geologic history," NASA says. 

More practically, Messenger has been snapping tens of thousands of images of Mercury in an effort to map the planet. The 100,000-images mark was reached May 3, and it wasn't easy. What with the planet's slow rotation and its proximity to the sun, it was a challenge to design a system to gather these images.

"We had to come up with a system that would be able to capture the required observations of the planet, maintain thermal safety requirements and not jeopardize the safety of the spacecraft," mission engineer Ed Hawkins said in a new release at the time.

Scientists had to wait until Messenger made its first flyby of Mercury in January 2008 before they even could be certain the system and its camera would work as hoped.

They did. And now new images come daily, instrument scientist Nancy Chabot said in the release, prompting scientists around the world to study the images "to decipher Mercury's history and evolution." And to spot Mickey. 

Maybe Waldo's next.

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NASA spacecraft near the edge of the solar system

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