Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Messenger's Final Flyby Returns New Views of Mercury

On September 29, 2009, the MESSENGER spacecraft will pass by Mercury for the third time, flying 141.7 miles above the planet’s rocky surface for a final gravity assist that will enable it to enter orbit about Mercury in 2011. With more than 90 percent of the planet’s surface imaged, the team will turn its instruments on specific features and uncover more information about the planet closest to the Sun.

The first two flybys of Mercury revealed new, previously unseen terrain. During this encounter, the MESSENGER camera will again image the planet, including a small amount of never-before-seen surface, providing better resolution for some regions previously imaged. With this third flyby, instruments will also target interesting areas identified in the second flyby for more detailed spectral measurements as well. And depending upon the Sun, MESSENGER may get yet another unique snapshot of how the planet interacts with conditions in interplanetary space driven by the Sun’s behavior.

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