Flying by Mercury

New 2009 images of the planet Mercury
New 2009 images of the planet Mercury. Photo credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Left: This unnamed impact basin, with outer diameter approximately 260 km (160 mi), was seen for the first time on September 29, 2009, during MESSENGER’s third flyby of Mercury. Right: An unnamed crater viewed at close range for the first time on September 29, 2009, during MESSENGER’s third flyby of Mercury. The crater displays an arc-shaped depression known as a pit crater on its floor.

“Participated in collecting ground-breaking views of the last of the eight planets in the solar system to be fully seen.”

Not a bad line for a resume, especially if you are still a 6th grader.

Yesterday, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft flew by the planet Mercury on its way to establishing orbit around the nearest planet to the Sun in 2011.

The flyby’s ground support on Earth included a team of science educators working hand-in-hand with mission scientists. The science educators were onboard to communicate the findings to classrooms all across the U.S. and give students the opportunity to join in the adventure.

Students were invited to follow updates, ask questions, and participate in live conversations about the preliminary images in real-time as the data were streamed here to Earth. Such exciting opportunities for students to be on the cutting edge of learning about another part of our solar system don’t come along often. It’s also a chance for them to see how scientists approach the exploration process and go about interpreting data. The discussion will continue for a couple more days, so check it out. You can also get your own views of first-ever seen features of Mercury on the mission’s website.


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