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Messenger Sets Record For Accuracy Of Planetary Flyby
by Staff Writers
Laurel MD (SPX) Oct 13, 2008

This image was taken about 54 minutes before MESSENGER's closest approach to Mercury during the mission's second flyby of the innermost planet in the Solar System. The striking image shows a view looking over Mercury's horizon into the darkness of space. The surface in this image is located in the northern portion of the sunlit, crescent-shaped planet seen as the spacecraft approached Mercury. The low Sun angle creates distinct shadows, enhancing the visibility of the roughness of the surface, which is especially prominent for material ejected from, and surrounding, the impact crater cut by the left edge of this image. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

By using solar sailing - rotating the spacecraft and tilting its solar panels to use the very small pressure from sunlight to alter the spacecraft's trajectory - Messenger navigators have achieved a new record for the smallest miss distance between the intended and actual closest approach distance during a flyby of a planet other than Earth.

On October 6, 2008, the probe flew 199.4 kilometers (123.9 miles) above the surface of the planet. "Our goal was to fly 200 kilometers from the planet's surface, and we missed that target by only 0.6 kilometers," explained Messenger Mission Design Lead Jim McAdams, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

That's pretty remarkable targeting, given that Messenger has travelled 668 million kilometers since its last deep space maneuver in March, McAdams says. "It's as if we shot an arrow from New York to a target in Los Angeles - nudged it three times mid-stream with a soft breath - and arrived within the width of the arrow's shaft at the target."

New Mercury Images Available
The Messenger Science Team has released five new images from the probe's second flyby of Mercury. When the spacecraft flew by Mercury in January, one of the more dramatic images captured was of the Vivaldi crater at sunset. Two days ago, Messenger's cameras took this image of Vivaldi <> at sunrise.

This striking view of Mercury, taken about 54 minutes before closest approach, shows the northern portion of the sunlit, crescent-shaped planet seen as the spacecraft approached Mercury. As Messenger continued toward Mercury, the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) captured this image of previously unseen smooth plains.

The MDIS Wide Angle Camera snapped this image , part of a high-resolution color mosaic of the planet, just 8 minutes and 47 seconds after the Messenger spacecraft passed above Mercury's surface. The probe's closest approach occurred over the dark night side of Mercury, as can be seen in this animation , so the MDIS cameras had to wait until the sunlit surface was visible before beginning to image while departing from the planet.

This image shows a view of Mercury as imaged by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in the 1970s, alongside a view of the planet with the gaps largely filled in by Messenger during the recent flyby. Filling in this gap will help the Science Team to use both Mariner 10 and Messenger data to characterize the diverse geological processes that shaped the surface of Mercury over time.


Related Links
News Flash at Mercury
Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

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Mercury As Never Seen Before
Huntsville AL (SPX) Oct 09, 2008
Yesterday, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft flew past Mercury and photographed a broad swath of never-before-seen terrain. The first of more than 1,200 high-resolution images are arriving back at Earth now. "The MESSENGER team is extremely pleased by the superb performance of the spacecraft and the payload," says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of ... read more

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