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MESSENGER

  1. MESSENGER Snaps Highest-Resolution Images of Mercury’s Surface Ever

    Some planets look better at a distance.

    The MESSENGER spacecraft took an upclose look at the surface of Mercury yesterday and captured the highest-resolution images of the planet to date.

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  2. Mercury May Have Once Had An Awesome Ocean Of Magma, Says New Study

    A new analysis of the surface of Mercury has revealed that the planet closest to the Sun was once totally badass. The results of a study by researchers at MIT suggest that at one point, some billions of years ago, the planet hosted a rolling ocean of flowing magma.

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  3. NASA Spacecraft Finds More Evidence for Water-Ice on Mercury

    Though Mercury is generally thought of as an inhospitable, flaming ball of rock due to its close distance to the Sun, its poles are permanently cast in shadow. In the past, work has shown that areas near Mercury's poles reflect radar, which is something ice does. Now, it turns out, the Messenger probe has found that the radar patches near the shadowy poles actually line up with craters that are covered in shadow, which would make a perfect home for water-ice.

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  4. New Information from Mercury Probe Blows Scientists' Minds

    When NASA launched the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging satellite (or MESSENGER, demonstrating some truly hamfisted government acronym crafting) in 2004, Mercury has a pretty low profile in planetary science. For years, the innermost planet was assumed to have a quiet, boring life and was thought to be similar to our own moon. But after a mere six months in orbit around the planet, MESSENGER has produced enough information for a whopping seven papers published in the magazine Science that soundly dash those hum-drum expectations. With this new information, the MESSENGER probe is forcing planetary scientists to reassess their assumptions about the planet's volcanic history, geological processes, magnetic field, and overall composition. The principal investigator behind the project Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institute for Science, described it thusly: "In the history of exploration of our planetary system, the first spacecraft to orbit a planet has always yielded stunning surprises, and MESSENGER has been true to that pattern."

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  5. First Image of Mercury from Orbit

    Earlier this month, NASA's MESSENGER probe became the first manmade object to enter Mecury's orbit, and yesterday it made another historic first: It captured the first-ever image of Mercury taken from space. NASA explains:

    The dominant rayed crater in the upper portion of the image is Debussy. The smaller crater Matabei with its unusual dark rays is visible to the west of Debussy. The bottom portion of this image is near Mercury's south pole and includes a region of Mercury's surface not previously seen by spacecraft. Compare this image to the planned image footprint to see the region of newly imaged terrain, south of Debussy.
    MESSENGER is planned to take more than 75,000 more images of Mercury over the coming year. Click through for a larger image:

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  6. NASA’s MESSENGER Probe Enters Orbit Around Mercury

    NASA's MESSENGER (believe it or not, it stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) probe entered orbit around Mercury last night, making it the first manmade object to ever do so. Now in orbit, MESSENGER will be observed for several days to see how the craft performs in the harsh environment so close to the sun. Onboard scientific instruments will be activated on March 23, with the scientific mission beginning on April 4. The journey has not been an easy one. Mercury travels at about 106,000 mph, which is much faster than Earth. Just to catch up with the planet, the probe had to gain 65,000 mph. In order to achieve such a feat, NASA mission planners plotted a roundabout course around Venus and Mercury, using the planets' gravity to speed up the craft. The final flight plan covered 5 billion miles, and 15 loops around the sun. Not much is known about the innermost planet of our solar system, which has been visited only once in 1974 by Mariner 10. Scientists are hoping MESSENGER will give them a greater understanding of Mercury's composition, and its curiously strong magnetic field. Though it has just entered orbit, MESSENGER made some surprising discoveries during a 2008 encounter with the planet: Large amounts of water in the planet's exosphere. Now that the craft is in place, the real work can begin. Given what MESSENGER has discovered already, it's shaping up to be an exciting mission. And, of course, you can follow mission updates through the MESSENGER Twitter. (via NASA, NASA Science, image via NASA)

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