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Friday, 20 November 2009 14:10

NASA Spacecraft MESSENGER Reveals New Insights into the Planet Mercury

Written by  Peter McDonald
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NASA Spacecraft MESSENGER photographed the surface of MercuryThe NASA spacecraft MESSENGER (which stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging Spacecraft), has given scientists an almost complete view of the planet’s surface during its third and final flyby of Mercury.

MESSENGER was able to collect high-resolution and color images unveiling another 6 percent of Mercury’s surface and has never before been seen at close range, thus providing NASA with new scientific findings about a relatively unknown planet. MESSENGER’s cameras and instruments were able to gather this data, despite shutting down temporarily due to a power system switchover during a solar eclipse. Because of this, NASA has now gathered images of approximately 98% of Mercury’s surface. “The new images reminded us that Mercury continues to hold surprises," said Sean Solomon, principal investigator for the mission and director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

In 2011, MESSENGER will orbit Mercury, and will be able to see Mercury’s polar regions, which are currently the only regions of the planet that have been unobserved.

The images taken by MESSENGER revealed new features on the surface of Mercury, including a region with a bright area The surface of Mercury as photographed by MESSENGERsurrounding an irregular depression. This region is suspected to be volcanic in origin. A double-ring impact basin approximately 180 miles across was also discovered. "This double-ring basin, seen in detail for the first time, is remarkably well preserved," said Brett Denevi, a member of the probe's imaging team and a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University in Tempe. “We may have found the youngest volcanic material on Mercury."

MESSENGER revealed that Mercury’s exosphere goes through seasonal changes. MESSENGER also revealed information on an abundance of iron and titanium on the surface of Mercury. Prior to this finding, it was believed that Mercury’s surface was low in iron. "Now we know Mercury's surface has an average iron and titanium abundance that is higher than most of us expected, similar to some lunar mare basalts," says David Lawrence, an APL participating mission scientist.

Visit http://www.nasa.gov/messenger for more information about MESSENGER.

For more news from NASA, go here.

 

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