On September 29, MESSENGER will fly past Mercury for a final time and pass within 142 miles of the surface before turning around and entering orbit above the planet in 2011. I’ve made it no secret that I love all things related to Mercury, and that I think this probe will offer us many more mysteries than answers, but each flyby just gets me excited all over again.
The yellow outlines in this image show what areas the cameras will cover during this flyby. The dark areas are places we’ve never seen. I love new frontiers!
About 90% of the surface has been photographed, but this extremely close fly-by will allow for some really high-resolution images. So even though a majority of the space within the outlines are places we’ve seen before, it’s going to be as though we’re seeing those places for the first time.
Also, this flyby may give us a good chance to investigate Mercury’s super-thin atmosphere and comet-like tail…
“Scans of the planet’s tail will provide important clues regarding the processes that maintain Mercury’s fascinating atmosphere,” said Noam Izenberg of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “The Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer will give us a snapshot of how the distribution of sodium and calcium in Mercury’s atmosphere vary with solar and planetary conditions. [We also plan to] look for several new atmospheric constituents.”
Nice. Hope all goes well Tuesday. The gravity assist from the planet this time has to be spot on for the orbital insertion to work. I’ll just hang by my computer and wait for the science to roll in.