The recent flyby of Mercury by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has given scientists an entirely new look at a planet once thought to have characteristics similar to those of Earth’s moon. Researchers are amazed by the wealth of images and data that show a unique world with a diversity of geological processes and a very different magnetosphere from the one discovered and sampled more than 30 years ago.
Back in the early seventies, NASA sent Mariner 10 to Mercury. It was the last in a series of Mariner missions designed to survey other planets in the solar system. Launched in November 1973, this mission provided new information about Mercury and Venus in the Mariner program’s first dual-planet mission. Beginning in March 1974, Mariner 10′s three flybys past Mercury mapped about half of the planet’s surface, during which time a thin atmosphere and a magnetic field were discovered. More than thirty years later, we went back to Mercury this week, for some better pictures…and it was worth the trip.