NASA / JHUAPL / Carnegie Institution of Washington
MESSENGER's solar system family portrait
On its way to its planned Mercury orbit insertion in March 2011, MESSENGER became the first spacecraft to be able to gaze out onto the solar system from its center. MESSENGER's cameras captured most of the 34 images on November 3, 2010, but, in order to protect its instruments from the glare of the Sun, had to wait to capture the frames near and covering Neptune until November 16. In the mosaic, all of the planets are visible except for Uranus and Neptune, which v at distances of 3.0 and 4.4 billion kilometers v were too faint to detect. But MESSENGER's cameras could spot Earth's Moon and Jupiter's Galilean satellites (Callisto, Europa, Io, and Ganymede). The Solar System's perch on a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy also afforded a beautiful view of a portion of the galaxy in the bottom center.