(Image source: NASA)

 

BY STEVEN SPARKMAN

ANCHOR CHRISTINA HARTMAN

 

You're watching multisource science news analysis from Newsy

 

After a trip that’s covered nearly five billion miles, NASA’s Messenger probe is finally ready to start its mission. It’s arrived at the planet Mercury, beginning a years’ study to shed light on the sunniest planet. The Baltimore Sun has more.

“Fifteen years of planning and 6 1/2 years of maneuvering in space will all come down to the crunch Thursday evening as mission managers in Maryland try to slip NASA's Messenger spacecraft into orbit around Mercury. The braking maneuver, playing out 96 million miles from Earth, will have to slow the desk-sized planetary probe by 1,929 mph and ease it into a polar orbit around the planet closest to the sun.”

Getting to the Mercury wasn’t easy. The tiny planet moves about 65,000 mph faster than Earth. Instead of sending Messenger up with tons of fuel, NASA engineers picked up gravity boosts from the Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mercury itself to get it up to speed.

Now the fun begins. The probe will make highly elliptical sweeps around Mercury’s poles, then zip back out again. Hanging out in Mercury’s shadow for a while will allow the instruments to cool off, then it’s back in again every 12 hours. That’s over 700 orbits, with all of Messenger’s sensors firing. (Video source: NASA)

Though Mercury is relatively close by, this will be the first time scientists have gotten a detailed look at it. The planet is kind of an oddity: it’s denser than the other rocky planets and has a gas trail like a comet. As UANews explains, it’s also unusually active.

“One of the mysteries scientists are hoping to solve with the MESSENGER mission surrounds Mercury's magnetic field. At a diameter only slightly larger than that of the moon ... Mercury should have solidified to the core. However, the presence of a magnetic field suggests the planet's innards are partially molten.”

NASA’s other probes have been shelling out data on planets in other solar systems, but astronomers still don’t know all the ins and outs of how rocky planets form. One of the researchers told Space.com that’s why studying Mercury is so important.

“Discovering more about this searing hot, rocky sibling of Earth could shed light on how our solar system formed, and how alien planets coalesced around faraway stars... ‘Many exoplanets discovered to date are as close or closer than Mercury is to our host star...’ ”

After a warm-up to get its sensors online, Messenger is expected to start sending back data in April. That means we could be just weeks away from finally answering the question, “Is there mercury on Mercury?”

 

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Messenger Probe Arrives at Mercury

by Steven Sparkman
0
Transcript
Mar 16, 2011

Messenger Probe Arrives at Mercury

(Image source: NASA)

 

BY STEVEN SPARKMAN

ANCHOR CHRISTINA HARTMAN

 

You're watching multisource science news analysis from Newsy

 

After a trip that’s covered nearly five billion miles, NASA’s Messenger probe is finally ready to start its mission. It’s arrived at the planet Mercury, beginning a years’ study to shed light on the sunniest planet. The Baltimore Sun has more.

“Fifteen years of planning and 6 1/2 years of maneuvering in space will all come down to the crunch Thursday evening as mission managers in Maryland try to slip NASA's Messenger spacecraft into orbit around Mercury. The braking maneuver, playing out 96 million miles from Earth, will have to slow the desk-sized planetary probe by 1,929 mph and ease it into a polar orbit around the planet closest to the sun.”

Getting to the Mercury wasn’t easy. The tiny planet moves about 65,000 mph faster than Earth. Instead of sending Messenger up with tons of fuel, NASA engineers picked up gravity boosts from the Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mercury itself to get it up to speed.

Now the fun begins. The probe will make highly elliptical sweeps around Mercury’s poles, then zip back out again. Hanging out in Mercury’s shadow for a while will allow the instruments to cool off, then it’s back in again every 12 hours. That’s over 700 orbits, with all of Messenger’s sensors firing. (Video source: NASA)

Though Mercury is relatively close by, this will be the first time scientists have gotten a detailed look at it. The planet is kind of an oddity: it’s denser than the other rocky planets and has a gas trail like a comet. As UANews explains, it’s also unusually active.

“One of the mysteries scientists are hoping to solve with the MESSENGER mission surrounds Mercury's magnetic field. At a diameter only slightly larger than that of the moon ... Mercury should have solidified to the core. However, the presence of a magnetic field suggests the planet's innards are partially molten.”

NASA’s other probes have been shelling out data on planets in other solar systems, but astronomers still don’t know all the ins and outs of how rocky planets form. One of the researchers told Space.com that’s why studying Mercury is so important.

“Discovering more about this searing hot, rocky sibling of Earth could shed light on how our solar system formed, and how alien planets coalesced around faraway stars... ‘Many exoplanets discovered to date are as close or closer than Mercury is to our host star...’ ”

After a warm-up to get its sensors online, Messenger is expected to start sending back data in April. That means we could be just weeks away from finally answering the question, “Is there mercury on Mercury?”

 

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Get more multisource video news analysis from Newsy

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