Friday, July 23, 2010

Revisiting Mercury

I love the space industry. Just when you think that you know all about something, they come along and bust it all up. Of course, science does this in general all the time. But it seems that, like the jungle, all you have to do to find something new is look. This article came across my desk today.

Last September the Messenger spacecraft flew by Mercury again and last week three papers were the result.

Paper #1: Messenger photographed flat smooth plains within the Rachmaninoff crater. This suggests lava, suggesting volcanic activity. However, they appear to be less than 2 billion years old. Arguing that Mercury was volcanically active much later than was originally believed.

Paper #2: Messenger also detected rapid fluctuations of Mercury's magnetic field. Perturbations that on earth might take hours took place in minutes on Mercury. One wonders what's going on inside Mercury's core.

Paper #3: Mercury has a tenuous atmosphere that consists of atoms ejected from the crust by the power of solar radiation as well as charged particles and dust. Turns out that near the equator the concentration of Calcium changed over time; it was higher near sunrise than sunset. This effect was not seen for sodium or magnesium.

Messenger is getting ready to enter orbit around Mercury next March.

I have high hopes.

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