Saturday, March 19, 2011

Messenger Spacecraft Enters Successful Orbit Around Mercury

From Wired Science:

"Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, 96 million miles from Mercury, received the signal confirming that Messenger (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) had completed its final maneuver at 9:10 pm EDT (Saturday).

To slow down enough to get caught in Mercury’s gravitational field, Messenger fired its main thruster for 15 minutes. The burn slowed the spacecraft by 1,929 mph and used up 31 percent of its original fuel supply.

After finishing the burn, Messenger rotated to face the Earth by 9:45 p.m., and started transmitting data. Engineering and operations teams confirmed the maneuver went according to plan.

The event marks the end of a 6½-year journey for Messenger, which has made 12 laps around the solar system, two flybys past Earth, one past Venus and three past Mercury since launching in August 2004."
Amazing clockwork precision! Both on the part of NASA scientists and our solar system, as if by design. An even more spectacular feat was sending such a craft almost directly at our Sun and not have the Sun's enormous gravity hijack the craft to its doom.

A few facts:
Mercury to Sun - anywhere from 28 million miles to 43 million miles
Earth to Sun: 93 million miles
Temperature range on Mercury: 800°F to minus 280°F (brrr)
Mercury's Rotation rate: 58 Earth days
One revolution around the Sun takes 88 Earth days
Mercury's diameter is just slightly larger than Earth's moon.

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