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First Mercury Flyby in more than three decades


Barcelona, 14th January 2008

Today, 14th January 2008, at 19:04 UT, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, launched on 3rd August 2004, will do its first flyby 200 kilometres high above the Mercury surface, nearly 33 years after the first and last visit that we have done to the closest planet to the Sun: Mariner's 10 flyby on 16th March 1975.

During this manoeuvre, the spacecraft will take some important measurements and images of a great part of the still unknown area of Mercury surface, and will use its gravitational field to modify its trajectory.

Imatge oficial del primer sobrevol de la sonda MESSENGER sobre Mercuri: un primer pla de la nau, amb els panells solars estesos, i Mercuri al fons.

MESSENGER's First Mercury Flyby

The MESSENGER mission will fly by Mercury three times. The first one will take place today and the last one on 29th September 2009. After that, the spacecraft will adopt an orbit around the planet, from 18th March 2011.

Diagrama del primer sobrevol de la sonda MESSENGER. Vista des del pol nord de Mercuri. La sonda s'aproximarà per la zona nocturna del planeta. Des del mateix moment de l'inici de la maniobra, es trobarà sobre les àrees desconegudes de Mercuri. La màxima aproximació tindrà lloc en latituds properes a l'equador.

Diagram of the MESSENGER's first Mercury flyby. Sight from above the north pole of Mercury.

Through this whole period, the MESSENGER spacecraft will obtain images of nearly the whole Mercury surface - comprising the most unknown zones, not explored by Mariner 10 -, will measure the composition of the surface, the atmosphere and the magnetosphere and will take precise measurements of the gravitational field.

By means of all these measurements, the mission pretends to answer some of the most important questions that scientists wonder about Mercury:

  1. Why is Mercury so dense?
  2. What is the nature of Mercury's magnetic field?
  3. What are the unusual materials at Mercury's poles?
  4. What volatiles are important at Mercury?

You will find much more information and the images obtained by the MESSENGER spacecraft on the next links:

  1. Main page of the mission
  2. Information about the first flyby
  3. Images of the mission
  4. Films of the mission
  5. More detailed information about general issues around the mission
  6. Dynamic visualization of the first flyby
  7. Animation of the first flyby that shows the instrument operation planned
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