Mercury is about to get a whole lot less mysterious, as NASA’s MESSENGER (get it?) probe prepares to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. Read:
At about 8:45 pm Eastern Daylight Time on March 17, the MESSENGER spacecraft will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place it into orbit around Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet.
Mercury is an extreme among the rocky planets in our solar system: It is the smallest, the densest (after correcting for self-compression) and the one with the oldest surface and largest daily variations in surface temperature and the least explored.
Understanding this “end member” among the terrestrial planets is crucial to developing a better understanding of how the planets in our solar system formed and evolved.
Mercury is a strange one — it has a cratered surface like our moon, but like a McBLT, the hot side stays hot and the cool side stays cool. Can’t wait to see the pictures.