Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


MESSENGER Gets Closer to Mercury than Ever Before

Posted: August 1, 2014

MESSENGER Gets Closer to Mercury than Ever Before

On July 25, MESSENGER moved closer to Mercury than any spacecraft has before, dropping to an altitude at closest approach of only 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the planet’s surface, according to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

MESSENGER will go down to 25 km (42 mi) before the end of this campaign.

Several AOSS researchers are involved with MESSENGER, including Assistant Research Scientist Jim Raines. He is an instrument scientist for the fast imaging plasma spectrometer (FIPS), which is part of the energetic particle and plasma spectrometer, one of seven instruments on board the MESSENGER spacecraft.

“We are very excited to be making FIPS observations so close to Mercury's surface,” Raines says. “Many of these will occur over the northern magnetospheric cusp, a region in Mercury's space environment which has already been show by higher altitude observations to be fundamental in the linkage between the solar wind, Mercury's thin atmosphere and the surface of the planet. We are very hopeful that these new very low altitude measurements will help us further understand Mercury's dynamic magnetosphere and its role in modulating processes which generate Mercury's atmosphere and space weather its surface.”

The latest observational campaign includes closer looks at polar ice deposits, unusual geological features, and the planet’s gravity and magnetic fields in ways that have never been possible.

To learn more, please visit the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory site.

(Image Credit: NASA’s National Space Science Data Center.)

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