Thursday, June 16, 2011

MESSENGER Update

NASA's MESSENGER probe has been orbiting Mercury for about 3 months now, since it entered orbit on March 18, 2011, being the first spacecraft to do so. In that time, the probe has taken tens of thousands of high resolution images of major features of the planet. It has taken millions of measurements of things like chemical composition, topography, and the magnetic field.

Degas crater imaged as a high-resolution targeted observation (90 m/pixel). Impact melt coats its floor, and as the melt cooled and shrank, it formed the cracks observed across the crater. For context, Mariner 10’s view of Degas is shown at left. Degas is 52 km in diameter. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury been as interesting as researchers expected, including a few surprises. NASA had a conference to today that detailed some of the things they are discovering and learning more about on Mercury. Some of the great things so far have been unprecedented surface detail that is revealing landforms unlike anything else known in the Solar System (an example can be seen in the Degas crater above, a surface composition that differs greatly from the Moon (which was thought to be analogous to Mercury, the comparison graph is below), the mapping of craters that might contain water ice or other ices, and building an understanding of energetic particle bursts in Mercury's magnetosphere (thought to be caused by interactions with the Sun).

Major-element composition of Mercury's surface materials as compared to typical lunar surface materials and terrestrial basalts. Mercury appears as unique as the other planets and the Moon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

We have learned a lot about the closest planet to the Sun in the past few months. The best part is that this mission still has another three more years! I think it's best to end with the words of the MESSENGER Principal investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington:
"We are assembling a global overview of the nature and workings of Mercury for the first time and many of our earlier ideas are being cast aside as new observations lead to new insights. Our primary mission has another three Mercury years to run, and we can expect more surprises as our solar system's innermost planet reveals its long-held secrets." 


15 comments:

Quetopia said...

I can't wait to see what some of the outer exporation reveals.

Bunny Hill said...

Mercury sure have a weird magnetic field.

Jay said...

exciting!

TIMMYTHEROBOT said...

Mercury - another turd of a planet we can't live on!

ScottD said...

mercury is a cool guy he dosnt afraid of anything.

Aaron M. Gipson said...

I didn't know that ice could exist anywhere near Mercury, let alone on its surface. I always just picture the place as a sort of crematorium for our solar system. Looking forward to seeing more of the Messenger data.

Necroticism said...

For a second my thoughts were "I don't use messenger" but then "nasa's messenger..."

Three more years! three more years! so much discovered and so much to discover with the Messenger.

-BB said...

Space is so awesome. I am constantly awed at what we discover.

Buckaroopopcorn said...

I wonder if anyone is selling plots of land there yet?

The Angry Lurker said...

Nothing better than my dose of astronomy here, good work and interesting.

-E- said...

@Aaron M. Gipson yeah it just has to be out of direct sunlight.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Appropriate name for that satellite.

Melanie said...

looking forward to learning more!

LasseEA said...

They're ruining the whole point of the software :( followed

phthalo. said...

The data this is giving is probably more amazing than the photographs.

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