Into orbit

MESSENGER pays a yearlong visit to Mercury

By Ron Cowen, 11:04 AM May 5, 2011

Hidden by the sun’s glare and dismissed as a heavily cratered rock no different than Earth’s moon, Mercury has for decades been relegated to the back burner of planetary research. But studies of the planet closest to the sun have now ignited.

On March 17, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft became the first probe to enter orbit around the metal-rich body (SN Online: 3/17/11). MESSENGER — short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging — completes a lap every 12 hours, traveli...

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