Space Probe Enters Mercury Orbit

March 18th, 2011 at 4:18 am | No Comments |

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BBC News reports:

Nasa’s Messenger spacecraft has successfully entered into orbit around the planet Mercury – the first probe to do so.

The robotic explorer initiated a 14-minute burn on its main thruster at 0209 GMT on Friday.

This slowed the spacecraft sufficiently to be captured by the innermost planet’s gravity.

Being so close to the Sun, Mercury is a hostile place to do science. Surface temperatures would melt lead.

In this blistering environment, the probe has to carry a shield to protect it from the full glare of our star.

And even its instruments looking down at the planet have to be guarded against the intense heat coming back up off the surface.

“It was right on the money,” Messenger’s chief engineer, Eric Finnegan, said. “This is as close you can possibly get to being perfect.

“Everybody was whooping and hollering; we are elated. There’s a lot of work left to be done, but we are there.”

The spacecraft is now some 46 million km (29 million miles) from the Sun, and about 155 million km (96 million miles) from Earth.

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