MESSENGER arrives at Mercury today!

By Phil Plait | March 17, 2011 11:17 am

Just a quick note to y’all, since I’m in the middle of about eight things all demanding my full attention: the MESSENGER spacecraft will enter orbit around Mercury tonight at 9:00 p.m. EDT, after a tortuous 7-year journey. Once safely circling the planet, engineers will be focusing on making sure the probe is safe and sound, so it’ll be a while (days) before we start getting images.

I’m quite sure my pal Emily Lakdawalla will be poised for attack on every tidbit of news that comes in, so follow her on Twitter and on her blog at the Planetary Society.

Related posts:

MESSENGER’s family portrait
MESSENGER’s third tryst with Mercury
Mercury hides a monster impact
MESSENGER contacts the Borg queen


Comments (24)

  1. Kevin Thomas

    The combination of collective patience on the part of all involved on these types of projects is amazing. Seven years of waiting! I’m sure their patience will be well rewarded, and we will all benefit from the new wealth of knowledge. Thanks for pointing us to Emily’s blog, Phil.

  2. You recently said that “welcome home” wasn’t really appropriate for Discovery, as “sitting on the ground” isn’t really “home” for a spacecraft.

    Would “welcome home” be appropriate for MESSENGER?

    And, not just 7 years, but almost 4.9 billion miles. (The MESSENGER website currently says it’s about 4,899,563,022 miles, and going up 61 miles a second.)

  3. Sam H

    FINALLY!! Now we have another strange new world to explore :). A place where human instruments have never been, but sadly no new life/civilizations (yet) 😉

    I can actually remember where I was (in a van, suffering from numbutt on an all-day drive to a friend of my Mom’s in beautiful BC) when I first heard of MESSENGER, which was a radio broadcast aired around the launch date. Much later, when I received my braces, I heard that I’d be getting them off in this month, birthing the hope that they’d be gone at roughly the same time MESSENGER arrives.

    Alas, that was not to be…but WTH! Anyway, how long before the first Haleakala-class hi-res images land for the public to see?
    And Phil, I still don’t get your fascination with a Hawaiian volcano.

  4. John Moore

    @ Sam – I would imagine it was a telescope up there……

  5. Richard

    Yeah, but is it wearing green?

  6. Can’t wait for the images to start rolling in!

  7. DrBB

    Off topic but I thought folks around here would appreciate this:

    Victor Blanco, Stargazer, Dies at 92
    Published: March 16, 2011

    Victor Blanco, a Puerto Rican astronomer who helped build a major outpost for American science, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and shepherded it through 14 years of revolution, counterrevolution and economic turmoil, died on March 8. He was 92 and lived in Vero Beach, Fla.

  8. Great news, Phil! I’m sure everyone is looking forward the new discoveries that will be made possible by MESSENGER. =) In a related subject, you probably already know this, but New Horizons will cross Uranus’ orbit tomorrow, Friday 18th. Less than 4 years and 4 months until Pluto! These are very exciting times. ^^

  9. DrBB

    Adding this from the article:

    When American astronomers worried that the election of a Marxist government under Salvador Allende in 1970 might threaten plans to build what would be the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere at the time — 158 inches in diameter — it was Dr. Blanco who was dispatched to explain to President Allende what the Americans were doing on his mountaintop.

    And when President Allende was overthrown by a military junta and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet three years later amid death squads and disappearances, strikes and food shortages, Dr. Blanco was dispatched to General Pinochet, who decided that he wanted to visit the observatory and asked for a list of Chilean staff members and their political affiliations. Dr. Blanco demurred, saying that that would be an inappropriate intrusion into Chilean politics.

    “General Pinochet visited Cerro Tololo anyway,” Dr. Blanco wrote in a summary of his life in The Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics in 2001, “and we kept those Chilean staff members we knew to have been pro-Allende away.”

    —Courageous guy, as well as an important contributor to science.


  10. Christopher Kandrat

    Can’t wait to see some pictures.

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Yay! 50 minutes since orbital insertion now – just heard on NASA TV online :

    “.. camera working just fine and spacecraft where it’s supposed to be. …All indications so far are that its been a perfect evening.” :-) 8)

    Marvellous news. :-)

    The Mercurian feature called the “Spider” being renamed “Pantheon Fossae” tho’ ? Awwww, spoilsports. Still :

    Congratulations to all the MESSENGER team involved in making this happen. Well done and thankyou. :-)

  12. Crudely Wrott

    NASA TV coverage reveals that first indications are that the burn went as planned and that Messenger appears to have successfully entered orbit.

    Wow. Just Wow. We really are going, aren’t we?

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Crudely Wrott : YES. :-)

    Source for quotes # 15 – NASA MESENGER* press conference :

    MESSENGER elapsed mission time : 2,417 days, 19 hours 27 minutes 25 secs.

    Time since insertion burn : 59 minutes now.


    10:00 p.m. EDT (time) / (event) MESSENGER has become the first spacecraft to enter orbit about Mercury, our innermost planet.

    Spaceprobe tweet : “MESSENGER2011 Now it’s time to start making some science! #MOI2011” sent 15 seconds ago.

    Same source as first link here.


    For those who haven’t already seen it :

    This Youtube clip shows Mercury’s double sunrise phenomena & is worth watching.
    Guess MESSENGER will be seeing this for real – as Mercury’s new satellite. :-)

    Off-topic but hopefully of interest too :

    NASA also has the Goddard cheif scientist discussing the “supermoon” bad astronomy myth.

    * Sorry about the text “shouting”, can’t help it with acronymns! 😉

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @3. Sam H Says:

    FINALLY!! Now we have another strange new world to explore . A place where human instruments have never been,

    Well, not quite never but very rarely.

    See Mariner 10 :

    which flew past the innermost planet twice back in 1974 – March 29th and Sept. 21st.

    Then there’s the other recent MESSENGER fly-pasts which have ocurred at least a few times previously – see the links the BA has below the Opening article here. :-)

    Plus human telescopes incl. RADAR ones (Arecibo, I think) have mapped Mercury previously to some extent – although of course they haven’t physically been there.

  15. Sam H

    @Messier #18: Dang, forgot about that one :roll: Guess I was caught up in Roddenberrian romanticism again :)

    Anyway, how long before the first great hi-res closeups land? I hear that the craft is in a high elliptical orbit & that the primary science phase will start in April, but don’t they need to adjust the orbit to a slightly lower one for precision imaging and/or stability, like they did with the MRO at Mars? And because Mercury doesn’t have any atmosphere to assist in braking, how long will this take? At Mars it took five months, so I can’t really say how long it’ll take here with thrusters only. Mercury is moving very fast though, so the relative speed of the probe to the planet may not make it an issue. But then again, I dunno the math :)

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    So we now have working artificial satellites /spaceprobes around all the inner / terrestrial /rocky planets :

    Mercury – MESSENGER

    Venus – Venus Express

    Earth – lots!! 😉 (Terra, Aqua & iridium frex among them)


    Mars – Mars Express & Mars Odyssey – plus the rovers on the ground! (& more?)

    That seems like something of an achievement – but also just a start. :-)

  17. Are we going to connect with Mercury by MESSENGER? (lol pun intended, any resemblance to a messaging program is “pure coincidence”


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