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Goals of the Messenger Space Probe

Since Mariner 10 in 1974, there has been no new data gathered about the planet Mercury. The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry and Ranging mission (or MESSENGER) was developed to continue where Mariner 10 had left off. The main purpose of Messenger's mission is to answer six questions about Mercury. To reach Mercury, it used the gravitational pull of Earth and Venus to gradually increase its speed. This process was then reversed to reduce it's speed enough to become captured by Mercury's gravity and begin orbiting the planet.

Launched on August 4th, 2004, Messenger began its journey with six different goals in mind. The first is to answer why the planet is so dense - its metal-rich core accounts for 60% of its entire mass, which is twice the amount as Earth's.

The second is to further study its geologic history. Mariner 10 has photographed only 45% of Mercury's surface. Messenger has already finished surveying 98% of the surface which has revealed it most resembles that of the Earth's moon. It is continuing to survey the planet using X-ray, gamma ray and visible-infrared spectrometers to determine the elemental and mineralogical makeup of the planet's surface.

Unlike Mars and Venus, Mercury has an active magnetic field similar to Earth's. This is most likely due to fluid motions in an outer liquid portion of the planet's metal core. Messenger's third goal is to use a magnetometer to measure the strength of it's magnetic field and further study its behavior.

The fourth goal is to determine the composition of Mercury's core. Through data gathered by Mariner 10 it is known that Mercury has a large iron-rich core and recent studies done from Earth reveal at least a small amount of its core is still liquid.

The fifth goal is to determine the composition of materials at the planet's poles. At radar wavelengths both poles exhibit reflective material.

The sixth goal is to study Mercury's exosphere, which is a very thin atmosphere composed of seven elements, but because it is so thin the molecules bounce back and forth on the surface instead of continuously colliding with each other. Messenger is equipped to study each of these elements and figure out their origins, most of which is speculated to have come from asteroid/comet impacts.

By further studying Mercury, Messenger is helping us further understand how the rest of our solar system formed, as it continues to orbit Mercury - the final phase of the mission.

Space


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