Learn about the spacecraft Messenger which was sent to the planet Mercury to gather data about it.
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Sending the Spacecraft Messenger to Mercury It’s been over 30 years since the spacecraft visited Mercury. A NASA scientist is making final preparations from Messenger to blast off on a 4.9 billion mile journey to the planet closest to the sun. Messenger will take 7 years to reach Mercury’s orbit making 15 loops of the sun on the way then it will spend one earth year gathering data. Scientists hope the information will reveal more about the forces that shaped planets like our own. Of the only other visit to Mercury in 1974, Mariner 10 gathered data on less than half of Mercury’s surface. There is still an entire hemisphere unknown to us. The information collected by Messenger will be invaluable to scientists. Messenger will make key measurements that will address the size and state of the core and that the origin of the magnetic field. By measuring Mercury’s gravitational field and characteristics of its rotational state, scientists can determine the size of the core and whether the outer core is fluid. By mapping the magnetic field, scientists can distinguish among competing ideas for what is generating that field. To do its job, Messenger is equipped with 7 scientific instruments. An imaging system with wide and narrow angle high resolution cameras will provide the first and the images of the entire planet. A plank of spectrometers will carry out chemical remote sensing using x-rays, gamma rays and neutrons at infrared radiation. There will a magneto meter to map the magnetic field of the planet. A laser alter meter will measure the planet’s topography and two other instruments will study the atmosphere and magnetosphere. Mercury’s proximity to the sun has presented and unprecedented mission design challenge. The sun is ten times brighter than what we see on earth and surface temperatures that Mercury’s equator can reach 450 degrees celsius. Luckily, most of the space craft won’t have to see those extremes because of an innovative design of sun shape to protect the body of the space craft. The mist project is the 7th in NASA’s discovery program of lower cost scientifically focused space missions.