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MSRAL 2006 Convention

November Regular Meeting at SLAS
The MESSENGER Mission to Mercury

Roger Phillips
of the
Earth and Planetary Sciences Department
Washington University

Meeting Location

       Mercury is a planet of extremes. Its daytime surface reaches temperatures of  660 oF, while the night side freezes at - 275oF. Like the Moon, it is covered with craters and has almost no atmosphere, but like the Earth it has a large iron core. Because Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, it is difficult to observe from Earth.  It is usually lost in the glare of the sun, and when briefly visible, it can only be seen in twilight or daytime skies.  Only one spacecraft, NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1975, has visited Mercury. The MESSENGER spacecraft, launched in 2004, will fly by Mercury in 2008 and in 2009, and then settle into orbit around the planet  in March of 2011. Dr. Phillips will review what is known about Mercury, what major scientific questions remain to be answered, and how  the MESSENGER spacecraft will probably provide at least some of the answers. MESSENGER has traveled more than a billion miles so far!  It's path includes one Earth flyby, two Venus flyby's and three Mercury flybys before it enters Mercury orbit in 2011.  It is expected to remain in Mercury orbit for a full year. MESSENGER has just completed the first Venus flyby.

      Roger Phillips is a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Director of the McDonnell Center For the Space Sciences at Washington University. He is an internationally known planetary geophysicist and a veteran of many robotic spacecraft missions, including NASA’s Pioneer Venus, Magellan, and Mars Global Surveyor. He is currently working with radar mapping instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the European Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury.


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