extremely hot on one side, extremely cold at night Mercury is

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Transcript extremely hot on one side, extremely cold at night Mercury is

The Planet Mercury
And the MESSENGER Mission
Clark R. Chapman
Southwest Research Inst.
Boulder, Colorado
“Stargazer’s Weekend” in Estes Park CO
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
September 7th, 2002
Mercury: an extreme planet
Mercury’s size compared with Mars
 Mercury is the closest planet
to the Sun
 Mercury is the smallest planet
except for Pluto
 Mercury is like a “Baked
Alaska”: extremely hot on
one side, extremely cold
at night
 Mercury is (almost) the
heaviest planet for its size:
it is mostly iron
Mercury is Difficult (but
Possible) to See Yourself
 Mercury is visible
several times a year
just before sunrise
just after sunset
 It is always close to the
Sun, so it is a “race”
between Mercury being
too close to the horizon
and the sky being too
bright to see it…use a
star chart to see where
it is with respect to
bright stars and planets
 Through a telescope,
Mercury shows phases
like the Moon
Mercury’s Strange “Day”
 Mercury does not keep one face to the
Sun like the Moon does to the Earth…
but it is trapped by huge solar tides
into a 2/3rds lock: its DAY is 2/3rds of
its 88-(Earth)day YEAR, or 59 days.
Bepi Colombo
A prospective ESA
mission to Mercury
is named after him
 But that’s its “day” (time it spins) with
respect to the stars. Its “solar day”
(time between two sunrises) takes two
Mercurian years (176 Earth-days).
 All this was explained more than 30
years ago by the Italian physicist, Bepi
First (and last, so far) Mission
to Mercury: Mariner 10
 This early spacecraft
made 3 flybys of the
same side of Mercury in
1974 and 1975
 It took what are still the
best pictures we have
of its surface and made
many discoveries:
Mercury has a magnetic field
 Mercury’s crust has buckled
 Mercury’s geology is much like
the Moon’s
Other Mariner 10 Views of Mercury
Artist’s view of Discovery
Scarp [extreme right]
Recent New Color Processing
of Mariner 10’s Images
 Although Mariner 10’s vidicon system was
primitive, enchanced colors (reflecting different
minerals) provide clues about whether volcanism
has occurred on Mercury.
MESSENGER: A Discovery
Mission to Mercury
MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging
 MESSENGER is a low-cost,
focussed Discovery spacecraft,
currently being built at Johns
Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
 It will be launched in spring 2004
 It flies by Venus and Mercury
 Then it orbits Mercury for a full
Earth-year, observing the planet
with sophisticated instruments
 Designed for the harsh environs
Important science instruments
and spacecraft components
MESSENGER’s Trajectory
MESSENGER’s Timeline
 Launch in 2004
 Two Venus flybys
 Two Mercury flybys
(mapping unseen
side and other
 One-year orbit, 2009
to 2010
Dawn-dusk orbit
Noon-midnight orbit
 Science analysis,
Science Goals
Determine if Mercury’s polar ice
deposits are made of ice or sulphur
Study Mercury’s interaction with the
nearby Sun: magnetic field, “atmosphere”
of core
Mercury has MUCH to offer!
 Go out and look for Mercury when the sky
is clear at the horizon…
 Follow the MESSENGER mission in the
news, beginning with its spring 2004
 Think about this small, hot world… under
an enormous, scorching Sun (yet with ice
at its poles!)
 Imagine the engineering genius that can
send a spacecraft to work there for a year!
The Hazard from Asteroids
and Comets
 Each year, there is a 1-in-200,000 chance
that an asteroid or comet more than one
kilometer wide will strike the Earth.
 40 percent of these objects remain to be
found, and could strike without warning,
threatening the future of civilization.
 This extreme example of a natural disaster
(a tiny chance of happening, but with huge
consequences) challenges a rational
response by citizens and policy-makers.
Asteroids: Products of
Planetary Formation
 Early asteroid-like
formed the inner
planets and the
cores of the outer
The processes that
formed the planets
4.6 billion years
ago left smaller
comets and
some of which
occasionally cross
the Earth’s orbit
and can strike our
planet if it happens
to be there at the
same time.
The Asteroid Belt, the Trojans,
and the Near-Earth Asteroids
Mitigation Options (1)
 Spaceguard Survey (ongoing
telescopic search)
90% of hazardous NEAs may be
found by 2010, certified as safe.
Very unlikely: one is found that
will strike Earth within decades.
 Standard Hazard Mitigation
 Extrapolate
civil defense/natural
disaster management from local
to world context (e.g. store food
supplies, evacuate countries
around ground zero, prepare for
post-disaster crisis).