Tech Thursday – Mercury Rising: Photos from 1st Rock
Little is known about the surface of the 1st planet in our solar system. One thing we do know, is that when you stand on the day side, the Sun is hot enough to melt lead. That right there is a bad sunburn waiting to happen. But the Messenger spacecraft is now in orbit above Mercury taking photos and giving us a new look at the 1st Rock from the Sun.
The craft achieved orbit at about 9pm Eastern time on March 17th and started sending back pictures on March 23rd. During it's mission, Messenger is expected to send almost 75,000 photos back home. The craft was launched in August 2004, and did an Earth flyby one year later. It also did 2 flybys of our sister planet Venus and did 3 of Mercury before it was in position to be captured by Mercury's gravity and settle into the orbit it now flys in.
Only one other space craft has been to Mercury and that was in 1974. The Mariner 10 flew past Mercury twice, but the photos it took were of the same side of the planet. Messenger is focusing on the sides we haven't seen.
The mission is planned to last a year. But if this mission is like many other NASA missions, I have no doubt it'll last many more. One of the twin Mars rovers are still in operation somewhat, and then we have the Voyager spacecraft that is now leaving our solar system.
The big questions though, that NASA is hoping to get answers to are, why is the planet so dense, what is it's core made of, and what is nature of the planet's magnetic field. NASA also plans to look at Mercury's polar regions for any unusual materials.
While Mercury may not be one of the more beautiful planets in the system, it does have an air of mystery. I look forward to seeing what NASA finds.