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Soccer Mania Stretches From Brazil to Mercury?

An ancient crater flooded by lava flows takes on the form of a giant soccer ball on the planet Mercury in a new image captured by NASA's MESSENGER orbiter. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
An ancient crater flooded by lava flows takes on the appearance of a giant soccer ball in a new image of Mercury captured by NASA’s MESSENGER orbiter. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Worldwide celebration of the “beautiful game” may have spilled across the solar system to Mercury, according to NASA.

The space agency’s MESSENGER spacecraft has spotted what appears to be a giant soccer ball on the scorched surface of the planet closest to the sun.

While it may have the familiar pattern of a football, it is in fact a gigantic crater some 27 miles (44 kilometers) across that was filled by volcanic lava flows billions of years ago. As the lava quickly cooled, its surface cracked into the pattern of valleys we see today, covering the entire circular formation and leaving behind what is known as a “ghost crater.”

Just last week, mission scientists began maneuvering the satellite into higher orbits, raising its minimum altitude from 71 miles (114 kilometers) to 96.4 miles (155.1 kilometers) in order to delay its eventual demise. Once all of MESSENGER’s propellant is exhausted, mostly likely in March 2015, it will be sent on a kamikaze dive into the planet.   

A depiction of the MESSENGER spacecraft is shown viewing the Rachmaninoff basin. Both the monochrome and enhanced color views of Mercury were obtained during MESSENGER's third Mercury flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The MESSENGER spacecraft is depicted viewing the Rachmaninoff basin. Both the monochrome and enhanced color views of Mercury were obtained during MESSENGER’s third Mercury flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Launched back in 2004, MESSENGER is the first spacecraft to orbit the innermost planet. It has mapped more than 99 percent of Mercury’s surface, having snapped over 150,000 images in its first two years in orbit.

World Cup From Space

To see Mercury at such high resolution, you need an orbiting satellite. The same thing is true if you want to see the World Cup’s host country, Brazil. Check out this amazing orbital image taken by NASA’s Suomi-NPP satellite at night, showcasing the 12 Brazilian cities that are hosting soccer matches. While there appears to be plenty of light pollution emanating from the brightly lit cities, much of the country appears dark. That’s because much of its 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million square kilometers) consists of lightly inhabited forest.

n Brazil, cities and stages of World Cup 2014. Map produced from images taken by the  visible and infrared imaging radiometer (VIIRS) U.S. satellite SUOMI. Image Credit: NASA
This satellite image of Brazil at night shows cities and stadium locations hosting the World Cup 2014. Courtesy of NASA

 

See for Yourself

While not all of us can hop on a plane to Brazil to enjoy the games, we can walk out onto our doorsteps and look up at Mercury, starting next week.

The elusive planet is now hiding in the glare of the morning sun, but starting the first week in July, little Mercury will begin to rise higher in the eastern sky at dawn.

In the early days of the month, this faint, starlike point of light will be best tracked down with binoculars. Scan about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon about 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise (never look at the sun with binoculars). Each day, Mercury will rise higher in the sky and become brighter and easier to glimpse with the naked eye.

Skychart showing Venus positioned near Mercury in the very low eastern sky at dawn throughout  mid July. Credit: SkySafari
Sky chart showing Venus positioned near Mercury in the low eastern sky at dawn in mid-July. Credit: SkySafari

 

If you are having problems seeing the planet, from July 12 to July 20 it will be within 7 degrees of superbright Venus.

Good luck scoring your own cosmic goal!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on TwitterFacebook, and his website.

Comments

  1. Carlos Grohmann
    Sao Paulo, Brazil
    June 29, 8:36 pm

    I’m sorry but I have to comment here.
    Look at the sentence: “That’s because much of its 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million square kilometers) consists of lightly inhabited forest.”

    “lightly inhabited forest”

    WHAT??

    I’d never expected to read something like that in NG. That’s exactly the kind of “news” that make people think that Brazil is a vast, continuous forest.
    Please, do your homework. Such errors undermine the confidence in NG, and ruin a good post about Science and Space.

  2. Ima Ryma
    June 29, 4:22 pm

    I am the MESSENGER spacecraft,
    A messaging from Mercury,
    With loads of info photographed
    Of all the sights that I do see.
    Each twelve hours I make the round,
    An orbit I have done for years.
    Mostly pockmarked craters abound.
    An end to my mission now nears.
    On Mercury, my point of view
    Is of a chunk of rock without
    The precious life to come home to.
    Mercury is no Earth, no doubt.

    Message from Mercury – it’s worth
    Trying harder for peace on Earth.