WAUKESHA, WI -- NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is on track for its first flyby of Mercury January 14. The craft will explore the planet from as close as 120 miles (200 kilometers).
The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) craft, launched August 3, 2004, will be the first spacecraft to study the innermost planet while in orbit around it. Following three flybys during the next 3 years, MESSENGER will reach orbit around Mercury in 2011.
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. Also look for mission updates and pictures at Astronomy.com/news
Planetary scientists are eager to get a closer look at the Sun's nearest neighbor.
"We are about to visit Mercury for the first time in more than 30 years, and we can't wait," says MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon
of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
NASA's Mariner 10
is the only other spacecraft to visit the planet closest to the Sun.
"We'll be making close-in observations of the composition of Mercury's surface and atmosphere, and we'll be probing deeper into the planet's magnetosphere than we've ever been," says Solomon.
The MESSENGER probe's Mercury Dual Imaging System cameras began snapping pictures of the planet January 9. NASA plans a mission update on the Mercury flyby January 30.
Visit MESSENGER's online newsroom