Mystery Image Contest: April 6-20, 2015


The planet Mercury is the closest to the sun of the eight planets in our solar system. With its small size and cratered appearance, it looks similar to the moon: both have no atmosphere and have been geologically inactive for billions of years. Because of Mercury's lack of an atmosphere and proximity to the sun, the surface temperatures vary from extreme highs to frigid lows. It's believed that there is ice (frozen water) in certain regions of the planet that are shaded from the sun's harsh temperatures. Mercury's landscape and geology remain poorly understood, and research into these areas is a key goal of NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury.


The planet Mercury.

Photo Credit


Winning Entry

Barbara Chandler
Enid High School
Enid, OK

For Educators

Teaching Support

On August 3, 2004, the MESSENGER spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida to start its more than ten-year journey to explore Mercury. On its way to Mercury, MESSENGER traveled 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers) and followed a path through the inner solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. The spacecraft officially entered orbit around the planet on March 18, 2011.

This journey yielded the first return of new spacecraft data from Mercury since the Mariner 10 mission took place in 1974 and 1975, about 30 years ago. This data has served to deepen scientists' understanding of rocky planets and the inner solar system. The surface images that MESSENGER has sent back have shown that Mercury’s surface was shaped by volcanic activity, identified unique landforms shaped by loss of volatile materials, and confirmed the presence of large amounts of water ice protected from the sun’s heat within permanently shadowed impact craters near the planet’s poles.

As MESSENGER approaches the end of its mission, NASA decided to hold a crater naming contest, the results of which should be announced in April. April also is the month when MESSENGER is expected to finally run out of fuel and fall to the surface of the planet. All of this is taking place during Global Astronomy Month, organized by Astronomers Without Borders. You can find out more about this mission by visiting the MESSENGER site. You also can use these Science NetLinks' resources on MESSENGER and space science.

Related Resources

Cooler in the Shadows
Sensing Energy
3-5 | LESSON
Make a Mission
6-8 | LESSON
Behind the Mission to Mercury
9-12 | LESSON
Mercury's Volcanoes
6-8 | TOOL
Make a Mission
6-12 | TOOL

Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest Rules and Regulations

What Is the

Mystery Image Contest?

The Mystery Image Contest offers the chance to identify a science-related object based on a close-up picture of it.