MESSENGER flyby of Mercury

Jan 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: Life 'not as we know it' possible on Saturn's moon Titan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What's important to know about planet Mercury?

Feb 20, 2015

Close by the Sun is Mercury, a practically atmosphere-like world that has a lot of craters. Until NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft arrived there in 2008, we knew very little about the planet—only part of it ...

Interesting facts about the planets

Feb 17, 2015

While the universe is a big place to study, we shouldn't forget our own backyard. With eight planets and a wealth of smaller worlds to look at, there's more than enough to learn for a few lifetimes!

Are asteroids the future of planetary science?

Jan 27, 2015

I don't think I ever learned one of those little rhymes – My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas – to memorize the order of the planets, but if I had, it would've painted for me a minimalist ...

Recommended for you

Study of atmospheric 'froth' may help GPS communications

Feb 27, 2015

When you don't know how to get to an unfamiliar place, you probably rely on a smart phone or other device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) module for guidance. You may not realize that, especially at ...

SMAP satellite extends 5-meter reflector boom

Feb 27, 2015

Like a cowboy at a rodeo, NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), has triumphantly raised its "arm" and unfurled a huge golden "lasso" (antenna) that it will soon ...

User comments : 0

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.