Geophysical data from Messenger illuminates internal structure of Mercury
Astronomy news (December 02, 2013) – NASA’s Messenger Spacecraft answered many questions concerning the innermost planet in the solar system during its two-year mission to Mercury. Messenger took around 80,000 high-definition images of about ninety percent of the surface of Mercury. It also took around 10,600,000 laser ranging shots using the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) in order to map the topography of the planet surface. In addition, astronomers tracked the spacecraft using radio waves in order to gather data on how the spacecraft reacted in the planet’s gravity field.
Mercury’s generates a magnetic field
Astronomers combined the gravity and topographical data from Messenger to learn interesting things about the interior of Mercury. They found the core of Mercury spans about eighty percent of the diameter of the planet, compared to the fifty percent the Earth’s core spans. They also think Mercury has a solid silicate crust and mantle atop a layer of solid iron. Beneath these layers, astronomers believe lies a liquid layer and possibly a solid inner core. Astronomers need this information in order to better understand how the planet generates a magnetic field.
Mercury’s has surface features astronomers at NASA want to take a closer look at
Astronomers looking at Mercury’s surface also found areas with interesting features they want to take a closer look at in the future. They found a ridge in Mercury’s northern region they think formed after the volcanic plains had cooled. They also viewed an altered portion of the Caloris Basin were part of the basin floor is higher than the ridge. This could indicate more recent geophysical activity on the surface of Mercury than first thought.
Astronomers also used the topographical data collected on Mercury to determine the largest height variation on the planet is just 6.2 miles (10 km). This seems unusual since this distance is less than the greatest height variation on both Mars (19 miles [30 km]) and the Moon (12 miles [20 km]).
The Messenger Spacecraft taught us a lot more about Mercury than just the items above. Astronomers announced a lot more interesting things they discovered about Mercury through Messenger recently and you can read about many of these items on the NASA website.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft continues to study Mercury
Messenger is still in orbit about Mercury taking images and providing astronomers with the data they need to delve even deeper into the mysteries of the innermost planet of our solar system. The spacecraft is presently closer to the surface of Mercury than ever and is taking a closer look at some of the interesting regions and features we mentioned.
Watch this YouTube orbit on Messenger and its mission to Mercury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVVerBya6l4.
Watch this YouTube video on the icy poles of Mercury https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxR66Y0XcXA.
Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time. You can find out more about NASA here http://www.nasa.gov/. You can learn more about Messenger and NASA’s mission to Mercury here http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/main/.