NASA’s Messenger set to solve tantalizing mysteries about Mercury

March 16th, 2011 - 4:44 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 16 (ANI): NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, launched in 2004, is scheduled to enter into Mercury’s orbit on March 17 after a harrowing 4.7 billion mile journey that involved 15 loops around the Sun.

“In 2004, this milestone seemed like it was a long, long way away,” said Senior Research Associate William McClintock, a mission co-investigator from CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

“But here we are at last, poised to help solve some of the many tantalizing mysteries about Mercury.”

The smallest of the solar system’s four rocky planets, Mercury is about two-thirds of the way nearer to the Sun than Earth and has been visited by only one other spacecraft, NASA’s Mariner 10, in 1974 and 1975.

CU-Boulder scientists say learning what makes the hot, rocky planet tick will help them better understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems.

The refrigerator-sized spacecraft is carrying seven instruments - a camera, a magnetometer, an altimeter and four spectrometers.

Designed and built by CU-Boulder’s LASP, the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer, or MASCS, is a power-packed, 7-pound instrument that will make measurements of Mercury’s surface and its tenuous atmosphere, called the exosphere. (ANI)

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