Monday, January 14, 2008
Science: Spacecraft Makes Close Pass on Mercury
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft zoomed by Mercury today, coming within 124 miles of the solar system’s innermost planet. The pass today is part of a plan to place it in orbit around Mercury by 2011.
Messenger is the first spacecraft to visit Mercury since 1975 when NASA’s Mariner 10 made its pass. The Messenger’s mission will include taking images of the reverse side of the planet, never before visited by a spacecraft.
The closest approach by Messenger occurred at about 2 p.m. today. It took roughly 10 minutes for the radio signals to reach John Hopkins University, which is monitoring the flight from Laurel, Maryland.
Today’s fly-by is the first of three that will occur before an orbit is achieved. The spacecraft was originally launched in 2004. Further data and images will begin to be received by tomorrow. More than 1,200 images are expected from today’s fly-by.