WASHINGTON — A NASA spacecraft studying Mercury has provided compelling support for the long-held hypothesis the planet harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials within its permanently shadowed polar craters.
The new information comes from NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft. Its onboard instruments have been studying Mercury in unprecedented detail since its historic arrival there in March 2011. Scientists are seeing clearly for the first time a chapter in the story of how the inner planets, including Earth, acquired their water and some of the chemical building blocks for life.
By observing the Moon using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have found evidence of life in the Universe — on Earth. Finding life on our home planet may sound like a trivial observation, but the novel approach of an international
team may lead to future discoveries of life elsewhere in the Universe. The work is described in a paper to appear in the 1 March 2012 issue of the journal Nature.
This picture was taken on 27 October 2011 and also records the planets Mercury and Venus.
The MESSENGER spacecraft will eventually be settling into orbit about Mercury (in 2011). In the meantime, its latest flyby of the planet (used also to adjust its ultimate flight path) has relinguished images of portions of Mercury never seen before. Learn more about the MESSENGER images and its mission here and here.
In a series of three papers appearing in today’s Science, NASA’s spacecraft MESSENGER, reveals the latest information about the planet Mercury. One paper (available here with subscription) focuses on the magnetic field of Mercury. Another paper (available here with subscription) focuses on the distribution of magnesium, calcium and sodium in the region of Mercury, called its exosphere. The third paper (available here with subscription) reviews the latest imagery by the MESSENGER spacecraft and how it has led scientists to re-evaluate the evolution of the surface of Mercury. A simplified overview of the results, with some stunning graphics is available on NASA’s website here.
Earlier this week, NASA released the latest images from the MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury. MESSENGER stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging. You can see the latest images and current status of the mission at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/
The last time we received images from a spacecraft at Mercury was in 1974. Images from Mariner 10 are still utilized in astronomy classes today. You can compare the Mariner 10 images to the latest MESSENGER images by examining the Mariner 10 images archived by NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and available online at http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/html/mission_page/MC_Mariner_10_page1.html
If all goes well, the MESSENGER spacecraft will become the first spacecraft to actually orbit the planet Mercury beginning on March 18, 2011.