NASAs car-sized spacecraft successfully completes Mercury flyby mission

January 15th, 2008 - 12:58 pm ICT by admin  

London, Jan 15 (ANI): NASAs Messenger spacecraft has successfully completed its mission of flying by Mercury on Jan 14, when it zoomed about 203 kilometers above the rocky, crater-scarred surface of the planet.

According to New Scientist, this mission has made Messenger the first spacecraft since 1975 to fly past Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun.

The only other time Mercury was visited by a spacecraft was in 1974 and 1975, when NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft made three flybys and mapped roughly 45 percent of the bizarre planet’s hot, rocky surface, according to NASA.

Now, the Messenger probe travelled at about 25,700 kilometres per hour as it passed over Mercury on a mission designed to resolve some of the mysteries about the solar system’s innermost planet.

In fact, the probe is now gathering data on the mineral and chemical composition of Mercury’s surface, its magnetic field, its surface topography and its interactions with the solar wind.

Seven instruments that are aboard the car-sized spacecraft - a camera, a magnetometer, an altimeter and four spectrometers, are making these observations.

By the time the mission is completed, scientists hope to get answers on why Mercury is so dense and understand its geological history, the structure of its iron-rich core and other issues.

“This was fantastic. We were closer to the surface of Mercury than the International Space Station is to the Earth,” said Michael Paul, a mission engineer.

In addition to the Jan 14 rendezvous, Messenger is scheduled to pass Mercury again this October and in September 2009, using the pull of the planet’s gravity to guide it into position to begin a planned year-long orbit of the planet in March 2011. (ANI)

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