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May 9, 2016

NASA releases first topographical map of Mercury

NASA releases first topographical map of Mercury

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Monday, May 9, 2016

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On Friday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released the first ever global digital elevation model (DEM) of Mercury.

The DEM was created using data gathered by NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft, including over 100,000 photographs, and shows a variety of Mercury’s topographical features including the planet’s highest and lowest points. MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon said they hope the information will be used to investigate Mercury’s geological history.

MESSENGER image of Mercury from file, 2008.
Image: NASA/JPL.

The highest elevation on Mercury is at 4.48 kilometres (2.78 miles) above Mercury’s average elevation, located just south of the equator in some of Mercury’s oldest terrain. The lowest elevation, at 5.38 kilometers (3.34 miles) below Mercury’s average, is found on the floor of the Rachmaninoff basin, a double-ring impact basin suspected to host some of the most recent volcanic deposits on the planet.

The MESSENGER spacecraft was launched in 2004 to study Mercury, including its chemical composition, geology, and magnetic field. MESSENGER began orbiting Mercury in March 2011, becoming the first spacecraft to do so. In April 2015, having completed its mission, MESSENGER dropped out of orbit and impacted the surface of Mercury.



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March 30, 2011

First images received from orbit around Mercury

First images received from orbit around Mercury

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has sent the first images of Mercury taken from orbit back to Earth. (First image shown)
Image: NASA.

The first images of Mercury taken from orbit around the planet have been received from NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) probe. The images come after the spacecraft entered an orbit around the closest planet to the sun on March 17.

After various system examinations, the first images from the spacecraft were sent at 0520 EDT (0920 UTC).

Before arriving in orbit around Mercury, the MESSENGER spacecraft was launched in 2004, passed by Mercury twice in 2008 and once more in 2009. MESSENGER is the first artificial satellite to be placed in orbit around Mercury. Because Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System, the sun’s gravitational attraction altered the spacecraft’s approach to the planet. Because of this, a series of several maneuvers over three years was required to put the probe in orbit.

Although MESSENGER is the first probe to enter orbit around Mercury, it is not the first to fly by. Mariner 10 was the first to do this when it made three passes during the 1970s.

NASA is continuing to release images taken by the spacecraft as they arrive at Earth. MESSENGER is scheduled to begin it’s primary mission on April 4, consisting of various scientific and visual observations of the planet. Some of the scientific goals the probe is to accomplish are: determination of the geologic composition of Mercury, study of the planet’s magnetic field and internal composition, and transmission of more than 75,000 images back to Earth.



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  • “NASA spacecraft to begin collecting data on Mercury” — Wikinews, January 14, 2008

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January 14, 2008

NASA spacecraft to begin collecting data on Mercury

NASA spacecraft to begin collecting data on Mercury

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Messenger’s approach to Mercury is chronicled in this image taken by the Wide Angle Camera on Messenger.
Image: NASA/JHUAPL.

Today, NASA’s spacecraft MESSENGER, or the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft, is expected to begin its two day mission at about noon (eastern time), of data collecting and photographing of the planet Mercury. It is the first spacecraft to visit the planet in 34 years, since Mariner 10‘s visit to the planet in 1974.

“This is raw scientific exploration and the suspense is building by the day. What will MESSENGER see? Monday will tell the tale,” said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C..

This encounter will provide a critical gravity assist needed to keep the spacecraft on track for its March 2011 orbit insertion, beginning an unprecedented yearlong study of Mercury. The flyby also will gather essential data for mission planning. It will flyby an impact crater called the Caloris basin which is almost 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) in diameter. The basin is one of the largest impact craters in our solar system.

“Caloris is huge, about a quarter of the diameter of Mercury, with rings of mountains within it that are up to two miles high. Mariner 10 saw a little less than half of the basin. During this first flyby, we will image the other side,” said Louise Prockter, the instrument scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

It also will study the global magnetic field and improve our knowledge of the gravity field from the Mariner 10 flyby. The long-wavelength components of the gravity field provide key information about the planet’s internal structure, particularly the size of Mercury’s core. The flyby also will map Mercury’s tenuous atmosphere with ultraviolet observations and document the energetic particle and plasma of Mercury’s magnetosphere. In addition, the flyby trajectory will enable unique particle and plasma measurements of the magnetic tail that sweeps behind Mercury.

MESSENGER was launched on August 3, 2004 and will travel just under five billion miles in total. It already has flown past Earth once and Venus twice. The spacecraft will use the pull of Mercury’s gravity during this month’s pass and others in October 2008 and September 2009 to guide it progressively closer to the planet’s orbit. Insertion will be accomplished with a fourth Mercury encounter in 2011.



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December 10, 2006

Planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars line up, visible to naked eye

Planets Jupiter, Mercury and Mars line up, visible to naked eye

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

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Stargazers in Massachusetts will get a rare show on Sunday night, just before the local Sunrise.

The planets Mars, Mercury and Jupiter will line up and will be seen in clear skies at least 45 minutes before sunrise, and will be seen each morning until December 14, 2006.

“Jupiter will be very bright and it will look like it has two bright lights next to it, and they won’t twinkle because they’re planets. When I look at something like this, I realize that all the powers on Earth, all the emperors, all the money, cannot change it one iota. We are observers, but the wonderful part of that is that we are the only species on this planet that can observe it and understand it,” said television show host of Star Gazer, Jack Horkheimer. He is also director of the Space Transit Planetarium in Miami, Florida.

This will be the closest planet-lineup to Earth until 2053. The previous closest viewing occurred in 1925.

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November 8, 2006

Planet Mercury to blaze across Sun today

Planet Mercury to blaze across Sun today

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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A rare, but normal, astronomical event occurred today as the planet Mercury passed in front of the Sun from the perspective of the Earth. The event, called a transit was at least partially visible from most of the planet, except from Europe when the transit happened during local nighttime.

Visible as a perfectly round dot only 1/195th the diameter of the Sun, Mercury took about an hour and a half to move across the southern limb of the Sun, starting at 7:12PM UTC and ending at 9:41PM UTC.

From the point of view of the Earth, transits of this type can only occur with the two innermost planets – Mercury and Venus. Due to the orbital inclination of Mercury – 7° relative to the Earth – transits do not happen every time Mercury passes the Earth every 116 days. Only once every 23 times does a transit happen. The last time Mercury transited the Sun was May 7, 2003. The next transit will occur on May 9, 2016.

Such rare events have fascinated astronomers since the invention of the telescope first allowed them to view them. Captain Cook, for example, found Australia’s east coast while on a voyage to track the transit of Venus in 1769. Recording these transits allowed astronomers to make the first accurate calculations of the distance between the Sun and the Earth.

While not scientifically used for this purpose anymore, transits provide a glimpse into one way astronomers can currently search for extra-solar planets. Astronomers using this method of searching will monitor other stars to see if the star dims ever so slightly as an extra-solar planet passes between the star it is orbiting and the Earth. Being able to detect such a small, temporary drop in brightness may indicate the presence of such a planet.

Viewing solar transits are fascinating, but only if done safely. People must never look directly at the Sun at any time! The safest way of viewing a transit is to project the image of the Sun as seen through a telescope onto a screen. It may also be viewed with properly made and placed solar filters.


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