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NASA sends spaceship into Mercury orbit
Sat, 19 Mar 2011 07:09:25 GMT
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Mercury
The United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has sent a spacecraft into the orbit around Mercury, the solar system's smallest and strangest planet.

NASA's spacecraft called Messenger successfully veered into a pinpoint orbit Thursday night after a 6 1/2-year trip and 4.9 billion miles and tricky maneuvering to fend off the gravitational pull of the sun, reported the Associated Press.

Mercury is the fifth planet in our solar system that NASA has orbited, in addition to the Earth and the moon.

"It was right on the money," Messenger's chief engineer, Eric Finnegan, said.
Messenger is in orbit that brings it as close as 120 miles above the planet's surface.

"This is as close you can possibly get to being perfect," Finnegan added.

"Everybody was whooping and hollering; we are elated," Finnegan said.
"There's a lot of work left to be done, but we are there," Messenger's chief engineer underlined.

Mercury is not only difficult to get to, but it's has some of the most extremes in the solar system.

Temperatures there swing wildly by 1,100 degrees. While it gets up to 800 degrees on the planet closest to the sun, it also is so cold and dark in

some craters that the temperatures don't get above 300 degrees below zero. Radar even shows that there is likely frozen ice in those craters, something Messenger will try to confirm.

NN/MGH
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