Mercury has a House Guest

Messenger entered into a highly elliptical orbit around Mercury on St. Patrick’s Day, ending a six year long journey of several billion miles and several flybys of both Mercury and Venus. During this chase to catch Mercury, which orbits much faster than Earth, the probe broke a speed record, flying over 140,000 miles per hour.  Now a new journey begins for all of us as Messenger studies the planet in detail over the next 12 months.

Mercury is the closest planet to our sun and hasn’t had any artificial satellites prior to now.  Mariner 10 flew by twice and did some science, and Messenger did some during its flybys and both probes got some great science done then.  Scientists now think that Mercury has a partially molten core, which is one of the issues that Messenger will look into as it studies the planet.

Of course, as this probe does its close 120 mile high orbital passes and takes cool pictures, I’ll post some of them here; but what’s really cool is the probe’s name, since Mercury was the messenger of the Gods in Roman mythology.  In this case the science messages sent from Mercury to Messenger and from Messenger to us are destined to be enlightening indeed.  It all starts when the probe goes to work on April 4th.

~ by Bill Housley on March 18, 2011.

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