Mercury Mercrometer

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The journey will take 6 1/2 years, covering nearly 5 billion miles on a roundabout ramble through the inner solar system. The probe should reach Mercury by March 2011, then spend a year gathering data.

Scientists have been yearning to study Mercury up close ever since Mariner 10 zoomed by three times in the mid-1970s. If all goes well, Messenger will be the first spacecraft to orbit that planet.

The heat encountered once in orbit will be the equivalent of 11 suns beating down on Earth, about 700 degrees. But its instruments will operate at room temperature, protected by a custom-built ceramic-fabric sunshade just one-quarter of an inch thick. All Mariner 10 had was a quaintly old-fashioned umbrella.

Mariner 10 provided ''a glimpse of this planet of extremes,'' said Orlando Figueroa, director of NASA's solar system exploration division. Because it only flew by Mercury and did not circle the planet, Mariner 10 observed less than half the orb.

Messenger will view Mercury from all sides.

Reference:
http://www.sltrib.com/nationworld/ci_2390251
 

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