University of Maryland
The MESSENGER Mission: Results from the first flyby and anticipated future science
MESSENGER, a NASA Discovery class mission, executed its first flyby past Mercury on January 14, 2008. It carries a suite of seven scientific instruments, and will perform radio science experiments. These instruments include an imaging system, a UV-visible spectrometer, a gamma-ray/ neutron spectrometer, an energetic particle detector, a laser altimeter, and an x-ray spectrometer. On the first flyby, most of the previously unimaged hemisphere was mapped in 11 narrow band filters. Along with spot observations of the surface in the UV-vis spectrometer, these observations allow analysis of surface composition previously unknown. The observation of a tenuous ionosphere containing oxygen, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, helium and water group ions is one of the exciting results. The magnetic field previously discovered by Mariner 10 was confirmed to be an intrinsic field. The magnitude is consistent with that observed by Mariner 10, probably a centered dipole with a southward planetary moment of 230 - 290 nT Rm3. We anticipate the second flyby on October 6th, 2008, with capture into orbit about Mercury in 2011.