NASA spacecraft Messenger has successfully arrived at planet Mercury, after travelling for six and a half years, covering almost eight billion kilometers. Tricky maneuvers are required for Messenger to orbit around Mercury, battling against the gravitational pull of the sun. Mercury is the fifth planet in the solar system that NASA has orbited, including Earth and the moon.
“It was right on the money,” Messenger’s chief engineer, Eric Finnegan, said.
Messenger is orbiting at about 193 kilometers away from the planet’s surface, “This is as close as you can possibly get to being perfect” he added.
“Everybody was whooping and hollering; we are elated,” Mr Finnegan said. “There’s a lot of work left to be done, but we are there.”
Mercury has some of the most extreme characteristics in the solar system. The temperatures swing wildly by 600 degrees. Being the nearest planet to the sun, it can get up to 425 degrees. In contrast, the temperature can be as cold as up to 184 degrees below zero in some craters. Radar even shows there is likely ice in those craters, something Messenger will try to confirm.
In the 1970, NASA Marina spacecraft whizzed by Mercury but only captured pictures of less than half of the tiny rock. Professor, Robert Strom, the scientist on Marina and current Messenger was excited to get a second peek at the fascinating Mercury.
“I am just so thrilled, it isn’t funny,” Professor Strom said by telephone, minutes after NASA confirmed Messenger was in orbit. “Thirty-six years waiting for this day. It’s just unbelievable.”
Professor Strom said that his team and he were nervous when the spacecraft automatically transformed into an egg-shaped orbit. The controllers on Earth were not able to change commands because it takes eight minutes for signals to travel 160 million kilometers from Mercury to Earth.
“This was not easy. This was a very, very difficult maneuver to get into orbit,” Professor Strom told The Associated Press.
Messenger was launched in 2004. Next month, it should start transmitting pictures and investigate Mercury’s mysterious magnetic field and unusual density.
Report by : news.com.au