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NASA Space Science

MESSENGER Enters Orbit Around Mercury 108

krswan writes "From the NASA press release: 'At 9:10 p.m. EDT, engineers in the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., received the anticipated radiometric signals confirming nominal burn shutdown and successful insertion of the MESSENGER probe into orbit around the planet Mercury.' If you don't know much about this little spacecraft, check out its website. Designed with a completely passive cooling system, it will stay at 600C on the sun side, but room temperature behind the sunshade. During its 6-year journey it used solar panels as sails, relying on the solar wind instead of thrusters to adjust its trajectory. Over the next year it will build a high-res map of Mercury, and maybe determine if there is really ice hiding within polar craters (PDF)."
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MESSENGER Enters Orbit Around Mercury

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  • by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @09:59AM (#35529162) Homepage
    Mercury has a magnetic field unlike Venus or Mars. If I remember one article right it's also more dense of a planet. Maybe we'll find some nifty raw materials there that some day in the future we could harvest.
  • Re:Untrue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Buggz ( 1187173 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @10:03AM (#35529202)
    Not for boost, but for steering aka adjusting trajectory - sure! Like when you're rowing, just dipping an oar into the water will cause your boat to turn.
  • by pinkushun ( 1467193 ) * on Friday March 18, 2011 @10:31AM (#35529494) Journal

    Then again:

    - Mercury's density implies that a metal-rich core occupies at least 60% of the planet's mass, a figure twice as great as for Earth.
    - only 45% of the surface of Mercury had been photographed by a spacecraft.
    - Mercury has a global internal magnetic field, as does Earth, but Mars and Venus do not.
    - At Mercury's poles, some crater interiors have permanently shadowed areas that contain highly reflective material at radar wavelengths.
    - the period of time from which the position of the Sun in the sky at a given, fixed Mercury longitude returns to that same position is 176 Earth days.
    - 3:2 resonance - 3 planet rotations during 2 orbits around the sun

    Given the mysterious material hiding in the cold craters turns out to be water ice, the abundant solar energy on Mercury could be used to separate this into Hydrogen and Water. Both great resources to stay put with operations on the little rock. []

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @10:50AM (#35529748) Journal

    I know the US has done a lot of bad things and made some pretty bad mistakes but I just wanted to celebrate one of its (many) good achievements. Only the US has sent (or is sending) a probe to every major object in the solar system (yes that includes you Pluto). Only the US has launched four "Great Observatories" (Hubble, Chandra, Compton, Spitzer). Only the US has... well the list goes on and on even in just the field of unmanned space exploration.

    Of course the Cosmos is not solely an American prerogative. So here's a question; why haven't other wealthy federations/countries (EU, Japan) been hitting in their weight class? Is it because only the US (and to a lesser extent) the USSR had the close linkage between the military development of ballistic missile technology and space exploration as a means of bolstering national pride? Or, is it because the US is a nation full of dreamers and visionaries who pursue ideals (and ideologies) that may not appeal as much to the pragmatic and efficient Europeans (I'm mostly thinking of Germany) and Japanese? Is the reason why 70% Americans profess to strongly believe in God the same reason why they are (relatively) so willing to spend billions on space exploration? Do the same impulses that drive many (stupid) Americans to deny Evolution and Global Warming paradoxically cause them to fund the most productive scientific community on earth?

    And maybe that will answer this follow up question: will rising China follow (and perhaps surpass) the US in space exploration? If it is a matter of military development and national pride then perhaps yes. If it is something more cultural though...?

    On a related note: there was a recent article in (I think) the NYTimes about how, the Chinese Central Committe (the assemblage that runs China) got together recently. Since many of the members of this elite group were laden with the latest iPad and iPhones, a major topic of discussion was; why hadn't China produced anyone like Steve Jobs and would it ever? Say what you will about Mr. jobs, he has created and revolutionized several industries from scratch (personal computing, "windows" based computing, computer animated movies (Pixar), digital distribution of media, portable digital media devices, cellphones, tablet computers). Basically the article concluded that unless China were to become more democratic, less authoritarian and less hierarchal, they would have little chance of allowing a (paraphrased) Beatles fanatic, fruitarian, hippy dropout who spent a year in India before returning to start a self-proclaimed revolution, from becoming a success.

    Or is there another reason why the US has been blessed (cursed*?) by people like Jobs? (Education? Drugs? Fluorine in the water supply?)

    *"cursed" might be what some of his employees would say. He, like others whom I would call visionary (like James Cameron), have not been known to provide the most caring and supportive of work environments.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @10:57AM (#35529866) Journal
    Which program do you think has inspired more children to enter the sciences Apollo or Voyager? Which do you think has had a bigger cultural and economic impact, manned spaceflight or planetary probes?

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