In a press release last week, NASA stated, “During these hot seasons, the Sun-facing side of the probe’s sunshade can reach temperatures as high as 350°C [662°F].”
According to NASA, these conditions will recur approximately every 88 days; therefore, the satellite will need to endure at least three more of the seasons during its mission around Mercury.
NASA’s MESSENGER – which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging – was launched on August 3, 2004, and it took nearly seven years for the satellite to enter Mercury’s orbit.
This is the first space mission designed to orbit Mercury and, thus far, has been successful.
Since MESSENGER entered Mercury’s orbit On March 17, 2011, the satellite began snapping pictures of the planet’s previously unseen terrain.
NASA released the pictures on March 28 and has been updating the gallery periodically since then.
To date, NASA has about 80 images of the surface of the hottest, smallest planet in our solar system. You can view these images at NASA’s MESSENGER gallery.
NASA wants to study Mercury because of all of the rocky planets; it has the oldest surface, the largest daily variations in surface temperature, and is the least explored.
NASA states that studying Mercury is important because:
“Understanding this ‘end member’ among the terrestrial planets is crucial to developing a better understanding of how the planets in our Solar System formed and evolved.”
Once the preliminary mission is complete, there should be enough fuel remaining to maintain the satellite’s orbit for another year of operations. This extended mission would have to be approved by NASA officials, but MESSENGER is performing so well that the outlook for an extension looks good.
Unfortunately, the fuel will be depleted eventually. Once out of fuel, the satellite will be unable to maintain its orbit and will crash into the surface of Mercury.
For now, Nasa’s MESSENGER is going strong and sending a steady stream of data back to NASA scientists.
For more information about MESSENGER and the information it is gathering visit the MESSENGER main page
Image Credit: NASAOriginally published on TopSecretWriters.com