Will the MESSENGER probe be able to spot Vulcanoid asteroids inside Mercury's orbit?
Wendy Kaupa, Edwards, California
Yes. The MESSENGER mission to Mercury, launched in 2004, will enter orbit around Mercury in 2011. During its yearlong primary mission orbiting Mercury, the spacecraft's seven instruments will study the solar system's smallest planet (not counting Pluto, which was recently demoted to dwarf-planet status). But before it enters orbit, especially starting in early 2008 when MESSENGER first flies past Mercury, the probe may have opportunities to use its wide-angle camera to search for small bodies moons, comets, and asteroids in Mercury's vicinity.