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NASA assembles picture of solar system

Feb. 20, 2011 at 10:13 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- NASA says the Messenger spacecraft has compiled the first photograph of the solar system from the inside looking out.

NASA said the photograph was assembled from a mosaic of 34 images.

"Obtaining this portrait was a terrific feat by the Messenger team," said Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

"This snapshot of our neighborhood also reminds us that Earth is a member of a planetary family that was formed by common processes 4 1/2 billion years ago. Our spacecraft is soon to orbit the innermost member of the family, one that holds many new answers to how Earth-like planets are assembled and evolve."

The photographs were taken by the craft's wide-angle camera on Nov. 3 and 10 and complements pictures taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 from the outside looking in.

The spacecraft is orbiting the Sun between Mercury and Venus, and will try to be the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury on March 17, NASA said.

The photograph shows all of the solar system's planets, with the exception of Uranus and Neptune, which were too faint to detect.

Solomon said assembly of the photograph was difficult.

"It's not easy to find a moment when many of the planets are within a single field of view from that perspective, and we have strong Sun-pointing constraints on our ability to image in some directions," Solomon said.

The photograph can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/family_portrait.html.

Topics: Sean Solomon
© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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