Messenger Reveals New Information About Planet Mercury

Messenger Reveals New Information About Planet Mercury

Messenger Reveals New Information About Planet Mercury

The first spacecraft to ever stay in orbit around Mercury has begun spending back data and information about Mercury. NASA’s MESSENGER craft is also known as the MErcury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft. It took over six years and fifteen laps of the solar system to reach the planet’s orbit. First orbit contact was made in March of 2011. Seven different papers have been published so far in Science Magazine to share the data received to this point.

The surface of the inner planet has been a mystery to scientists for many years. Information sent back from the orbiter show large stretches of volcanic plains near the northern polar area. All together the smoothed plains cover 6% of the surface area. Plains like these usually indicate lava flows or movements of molten rock. Huge 16 mile deep vents and cracks in the surface are also the product of moving lava creating ridges and valleys.

Images have returned that show landforms that indicate geological processes that are currently unknown. Bright spots in the data appear to show small depressions with an irregular shape. These hollows are unlike any other pits on the planet. Rate of growth of these hollows demonstrated by other data on the planet shows that these shallow pits are still growing and developing today.

The chemical composition of the surface is also being revealed for the first time. Measurements of actual chemicals show that the surface contains far more potassium that anyone thought. Mercury is more like Earth, Venus and Mars that many scientists assumed. Mercury’s magnetosphere provided the MESSENGER probe with samples of plasma ions. This shows that a weak magnetic field around the planet makes it more susceptible to damage from solar winds. Solar winds have a big impact on the planet’s weather conditions.


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