MESSENGER gave scientists a few last bits of really interesting and useful information before the spacecraft crashed into Mercury, ending its journey.
MESSENGER had a wildly successful journey to Mercury. The things that NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft learned were things that will surely help scientists learn more about our solar system, as well as Mercury specifically, for generations to come. While MESSENGER is now a part of space aviation history, the information that scientists know now, will help them plan what the next move is in terms of studying the planet that sits closest to the sun.
MESSENGER’s biggest find before it landed was making a full-blown determination on the planet’s magnetic field. The findings led to scientists being able to determine that the magnetic field, which is solidified and held together by liquid iron at the core of the planet, is roughly 4 billion years old. Even more impressively, the dating process that scientists and MESSENGER used to come to that conclusion gives those involved a lot of perspective in terms of making determinations on other bodies throughout our solar system.
Catherine Johnson of the University of British Columbia, who was the author of the study, pointed out that this isn’t the end of studying Mercury. She said of the study that is coming in 2016 that, “It will make measurements over the southern hemisphere that Messenger was unable to do.”
Johnson also pointed out that the sheer length of this mission was something that gave a lot of merit to the study and information scientists collected in the process. She said, “The mission was originally planned to last one year; no one expected it to go for four,” which was a huge mark of success for the MESSENGER mission. She went on to point out that the findings here were simply unbelievable points of success for space aviation, and space study as a whole. Johnson said, “If we didn’t have these recent observations, we would never have known how Mercury’s magnetic field evolved over time.”
One of the major concerns that scientists had regarding MESSENGER was that there was a legitimate risk for the craft falling into the orbit of the sun, rather than falling into orbit of Mercury, given how close Mercury is to the sun. However, it was able to get incredibly close to Mercury and make some incredible readings in the process.
The craft was able to measure the surface, beyond the surface and into the core, as well as take measurements in the atmosphere on the way there. The information that is contained in this study, and that was obtained by MESSENGER is one of the greatest successes for NASA in the last 20 years.