This past Saturday during the regular meeting of the Riverside Astronomical Society, our guest speaker updated us on the Curiosity Mars rover that he currently works on. However, I thought it would fun to look closer in and see what was happening with the inner Solar system. That led me to Messenger.
Messenger has spent the last two years in orbit around Mercury, and is in fact the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.
Before that, the spacecraft spent a few years making three flybys of Mercury, one flyby of Earth and two flybys of Venus to slow down and achieve orbit.
All of the flybys and orbiting of Mercury has brought scientist the new data about Mercury since the Mariner 10 mission more than 30 years ago.
Messenger has taken over 150,000 images of Mercury and showing for the first time in high resolution, the Sun baked and impact scarred surface.
But not all areas on Mercury appear so harsh.
These smooth walls, floor and upper surfaces on Mercury is the result of widespread layering of fine particles. These fine particles aren’t caused by an impact from an asteroid or meteor, but from a sight familiar on Earth. Lava erupting from the interior of the planet. This is actually the rim of a volcanic vent.
A wider field of view shows the extent of the lava flow. The area in blue (below) is about 36 km (22 miles) across and is surrounded by the remains of volcanic particles from a pyroclastic eruption.
Messenger will continue to orbit Mercury and continue its mission until at least 2015. Find out more about the mission here.
– Ex astris, scientia –
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