MESSENGER flying by Mercury again soon (October 6th)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

What with all the excitement around elections and debates, I forgot about this second flyby. It's a relatively important flyby (compared to a flyby of Venus for example) because we still only have 75% of the surface mapped, leaving as much surface area to map as the total surface area of Pluto. Here's what NASA has on the flyby:

MESSENGER is the first mission sent to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. On October 6, 2008, MESSENGER will fly by Mercury for the second time this year. During the encounter, the probe will swing just 200 kilometers above the cratered surface of Mercury, snapping 1,278 pictures and collecting a variety of other data from the planet as it gains a critical gravity assist that keeps the probe on track to become the first spacecraft ever to orbit the innermost planet beginning in March 2011.
That's the same distance from the surface as the last flyby too. I'm not sure whether we'll have most of the planet mapped after this one or not or whether it will be taking pictures of previously unimaged locations...luckily Andrew Brown (3488) knows (he always knows). He wrote the following (amongst other information) in the comment section:
Also remeber, during the approach, the entire crescent will be new unimaged terrain, never seen before by human eyes.

If the suspected Skinakas Basin exists, look for it in the northern horn of the crescent Mercury during approach. Even if it does'nt, this is new ground, never ever seen before by humans.

Post Periherm, when MESSENGER reappears from eclipse, the left side of the receding gibbous will be terrain imaged by Mariner 10, but the Sun will be shining from the opposite direction. The right side of the receding gibbous will be most of the remainder of new terrain, never, ever seen before by human eyes.

The Caloris Basin will be in darkness & will not be imaged at all during this encounter & the third one in September 2009, so we will have to wait till the primary orbital mission, to see Caloris again.

Edit: here's a thread on the forums to follow for information on the flyby as well.
Edit 2: Found an image that shows exactly which new areas are going to be imaged this time around.


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