MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals New Insights on Planet Mercury


Thanks to the MESSENGER spacecraft, and a mission that took more than 10 years to complete, scientists now have a good picture of the solar system’s innermost planet.

On March 17, MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) completed its one-year primary mission, orbiting Mercury, capturing nearly 100,000 images, and recording data that reveals new information about the planet’s core, topography, and the mysterious radar bright material in the permanently shadowed areas near the poles. The findings are presented in two papers published online in Science Express.

“Mercury is the last unexplored planet,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor emeritus Stanton Peale, who devised the procedure used for detecting whether or not Mercury had a liquid core. The way Mercury was formed, he said, may show some constraints on the formation of the solar system.

For one thing, Mercury’s core is larger than expected –– almost 85 percent of the planetary radius. The Earth’s core, in contrast, is just over half of the planet’s radius. Additionally, Mercury appears to have a more complex core than Earth’s –– a solid iron sulfide layer that is now part of the mantle, which encases a liquid core, which may float on a solid inner core.

Full Story: http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/display.aspx?pkey=2677

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