Mission provides new findings about Mercury



[1] Mercury once was considered by even some planetary scientists as “an example, to use a phrase coined by a very famous scientist, as ‘one of the burnt-out cinders of the solar system.’ And it is anything but that,” Sean Solomon, who is principal investigator of NASA's Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft, said at a 16 June briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington, D. C. Scientists at the briefing announced significant new findings about the planet's chemical composition, topography, magnetic field, and other features. MESSENGER has now logged more than 1 Mercurian year (about 88 Earth days) as the first satellite in orbit around the closest planet to the Sun, and new understandings are being gleaned from the spacecraft's imaging system, which has already taken more than 20,000 images of Mercury. In addition, the laser altimeter has operated more than 2 million times from orbit thus far, and other instruments are also gathering extensive data about the planet.