MESSENGER Approaches Mercury

Image of Mercury taken by MESSENGER.  Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Image of Mercury in color taken by MESSENGER. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Today, NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft will make its third and final flyby of Mercury.  At its closest point in the flyby, around 6pm EDT, MESSENGER will come within 142 miles of the planet’s surface.  The probe will orbit Mercury in 2011, studying the planet in a year-long mission to study the planet in detail.

Tuesday’s flyover will observe specific points on the planet’s surface.  The probe will photograph craters picked out in previous flyovers and measure Mercury’s magnetosphere and atmosphere, as well as the planet’s comet-like tail of trace gases.  MESSENGER will also investigate the complex relationship Mercury has with the sun.  For more information, see Space.com.

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