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.
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.
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.
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!