Mercury: up close and personal

NASA is offering a new Web service that presents visitors with a simulated look at what the Messenger spacecraft will see when it zooms by the planet Mercury next week.

Messenger will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury, which was named after the god of commerce, travel and thievery.

The Mercury Flyby Visualization Tool will offer simulated views of what Messenger will see during its approach, flyby and departure from the closest planet to the sun. The site will offer real-time simulations as the spacecraft rendezvous with the planet Jan. 14. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory is hosting the service.

The tool will use the best low-resolution imagery and surface maps of Mercury generated on Earth, from such sources as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and image mosaics from the Mariner 10 spacecraft Mercury flybys. This imagery will be augmented with material generated on the Messenger by spectrometer and laser altimeter.

Clicking on the imagery will offer a view of the source material. Each image will also be accompanied by additional information, such as latitude and longitude, resolution and altitude.

Starting Jan. 9, Messenger will start clicking new pictures of the planet, with its dual-imaging-system cameras and other instruments. The spacecraft will come within about 125 miles of the planet, and is the first step in the complicated maneuver of locking into orbit with the planet, which should happen in 2011.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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