NASA’s Messenger sends pictures from Mercury flyby

October 8th, 2008 - 2:39 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 8 (DPA) NASA Tuesday published photographs sent by its Messenger spacecraft of a flyby of Mercury earlier this week, providing researchers a new view of the planet closest the Sun.Messenger came within just 200 km of Mercury early Monday in the second of three planned flybys for the craft. It 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 early images from the flyby show the crater Kuiper and the first views from a spacecraft of an area to the crater’s east. Researchers hope to use them to map the planet’s surface. Nearly 1,200 photos are expected from Monday’s flight.

The flyby was designed largely to pick up a gravitational boost of energy for the craft.

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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