Messenger craft flies within 200 km of Mercury

October 7th, 2008 - 8:09 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 7 (DPA) NASA’s Messenger spacecraft came within 200 km of Mercury Monday, taking pictures of the rocky planet nearest the sun.It was the second of three planned flybys for the craft, which is due to settle into orbit around Mercury in 2011, providing what scientists hope will be the most complete picture yet of the solar system’s smallest planet.

The 0840 GMT flyby was designed largely to pick up a gravitational boost of energy for the craft. It will begin beaming data back to Earth Wednesday, NASA and university researchers said.

Data from Messenger’s first flyby in January showed massive lava flows had shaped the planet and provided the first information on 20 percent of Mercury’s surface.

In 1974-75, the NASA probe Mariner 10 made three passes by Mercury, giving space scientists their first information about the planet’s magnetic field.

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