The Messenger spacecraft, which entered orbit around Mercury on March 17, sent its first images of the hot planet's surface back to Earth early Tuesday.
The first image, received by the Messenger mission team at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., at 5:20 a.m. Eastern time, captures areas near the planet's southern pole that have never been seen before - areas that could host water in the form of ice, according to Los Angeles Times.
The spacecraft then took 363 more photographs before sending the images to Earth; more will be released to the public on Wednesday, when NASA will hold a news conference about what it sees on Mercury.
The Messenger began its trip through the inner solar system six and a half years ago, and it entered orbit around Mercury on March 18. Since then, engineers have been checking out the spacecraft before turning on the instruments, including the camera.
During the mission, expected to last at least a year, the Messenger is to take 75,000 more photographs, allowing scientists to map out the planet's entire surface and study its geology and atmosphere in detail, New York Times reports.