MESSENGER flyby of Mercury

January 15, 2008
MESSENGER flyby of Mercury
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

At 2:04 p.m. EST on Monday, MESSENGER skimmed 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the surface of Mercury in the first of three flybys of the planet. Initial indications from the radio signals indicate the spacecraft is still operating nominally. The first science data return from the flyby was received today, just minutes before the closest approach point with the planet, as planned.

“The engineers and operators at the Deep Space Network (DSN) in Goldstone, Calif., in conjunction with engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., pulled off a tremendous feat, acquiring and locking onto the downlink signal from the spacecraft within seconds, providing the necessary Doppler measurements for the Radio Science team” said MESSENGER Mission Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan of APL.

“The spacecraft is continuing to collect imagery and other scientific measurements from the planet as we now depart Mercury from the illuminated side, documenting for the first time the previously unseen surface of the planet.”

On Tuesday at noon EST, the spacecraft will turn back towards the Earth to start down-linking the on-board stored data. Measurements of this Doppler signal from the spacecraft will allow improve knowledge of Mercury’s gravity field.

Keeping a Rendezvous with Mercury

Between January 9 and 13, 2008, as the MESSENGER probe approached Mercury for its first flyby, the Narrow Angle Camera, part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), acquired a series of images of the planet in support of spacecraft navigation. These images have been put together as frames in a movie. The final frame of the movie has the highest spatial resolution (20 km/pixel, 12 miles/pixel) and was recorded when the spacecraft was at a distance of about 760,000 kilometers (470,000 miles) from Mercury. Mercury is about 4,880 kilometers (about 3,030 miles) in diameter.

As part of MESSENGER's flyby on January 14, MDIS was to obtain high-resolution image sequences with the Narrow Angle Camera, and the Wide Angle Camera will collect images in eleven colors. The images will cover portions of the planet never before seen by spacecraft, as well as regions that were photographed by Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975. The new data for the previously studied areas of Mercury will help scientists to interpret the data for the parts of the planet that MESSENGER will reveal for the first time.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Explore further: How Einstein's general theory of relativity killed off common-sense physics

Related Stories

Mercury gets a meteoroid shower from comet Encke

November 10, 2015

The planet Mercury is being pelted regularly by bits of dust from an ancient comet, a new study has concluded. This has a discernible effect in the planet's tenuous atmosphere and may lead to a new paradigm on how these airless ...

What's it like to see auroras on other planets?

November 10, 2015

Witnessing an aurora first-hand is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The natural beauty of the northern or southern lights captures the public imagination unlike any other aspect of space weather. But auroras aren't unique ...

Gaia's sensors scan a lunar transit

November 6, 2015

Located 1.5 million km from the Earth, ESA's Gaia spacecraft is scanning the sky to conduct the most detailed census of stars in our Galaxy. However, on 6 November, it will be perfectly placed to witness a rare event that ...

Ion propulsion—the key to deep space exploration

November 4, 2015

When we think of space travel, we tend to picture a massive rocket blasting off from Earth, with huge blast streams of fire and smoke coming out the bottom, as the enormous machine struggles to escape Earth's gravity. Rockets ...

Recommended for you

Hubble captures a galactic waltz

November 26, 2015

This curious galaxy—only known by the seemingly random jumble of letters and numbers 2MASX J16270254+4328340—has been captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope dancing the crazed dance of a galactic merger. The ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.