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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NASA Probe to Reveal Whole New Mercury | NASA Messenger Mercury Mission | Mercury Photos, Solar System & Planets |

Ice on Mercury? NASA Probe May Solve That Mystery and Others

Date: 30 March 2011 Time: 05:26 PM ET

A NASA spacecraft now circling Mercury is set to tackle some big mysteries of the scorched, tiny world – including whether or not water ice lurks in its shadowy craters.

NASA's Messenger probe became the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury when it arrived at the planet on March 17. While the spacecraft won't officially start its yearlong science mission until April 4, the observations it's already made hint at many discoveries to come, researchers said.

"We're really seeing Mercury now with new eyes," Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, told reporters today (March 30). "As a result, an entire global perspective is unfolding, and will continue to unfold over the next few months." [New Photos of Mercury From Messenger]

The search for water ice on the blisteringly hot planet is one of the mission's driving motivations. Though Mercury's surface temperatures can top 842 degrees Fahrenheit (450 degrees Celsius), ice may survive on the floors of permanently shadowed polar craters.

And about 20 years ago, radar data first picked up intriguing evidence of reflective materials at Mercury's poles that might just be water ice, researchers said.

"Could ice be trapped there? The thermal models say yes, it's possible," Solomon said. "But is it water ice? There are alternative ideas."

Messenger will also investigate other questions about Mercury — why it's so much denser than the other rocky planets, for example. Also, the mission team wants to learn more about how the planet's core is structured, the nature of its global magnetic field and other aspects of Mercury's composition and history.

That work will start in earnest next week. In the meantime, scientists are sifting through the spacecraft's increasing pile of new Mercury photos. By the end of tomorrow, it will have snapped 1,500 photos of the planet from orbit, researchers said — more than it captured during its three previous flybys of the planet in 2008 and 2009.

The first photos

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I worked in an Air Craft Factory for 13 years. I started out as a Machined Parts Hand Finisher and ended up being a Tool Maker for 7 years. We built F-16's and did Rework on the F-111. I learned allot about the construction of an Jet Air Craft over those years. And sometimes, I still have my boyhood visions of climbing in a Rocket Ship and flying out into Space one day!;) Things have progress much slower than I thought they would growing up in the 60's and watching Men walk on the Moon. Who would have thought that it would all boil down to Money$$$! But, now that NASA and Private Industry has a Renewed our Interests in Flying to the Stars. Maybe, I still have a chance!:)


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