October 1, 2009

Problems During Messenger’s Mercury Flyby

U.S. scientists say the Messenger spacecraft turned off its instruments during a highly-anticipated flyby of the planet Mercury, limiting data collection.

Mission systems manager Eric Finnegan said the space probe shut down its instruments after detecting a problem during the last of three scheduled Mercury flybys, but a wealth of information was collected prior to the shutdown, The Baltimore Sun said Thursday.

It isn't the outcome everyone expected or wanted, Finnegan said of Tuesday's flyover.

Scientists said they have not determined what problem caused the instrument shutdown during the third flyover, which was the spacecraft's closest flyover of Mercury to date.

Finnegan said due to the unidentified problem, the probe's computers shut down as a precaution until they received new instructions.

The Messenger mission official told the Sun the three flyovers resulted in a significant portion of Mercury's surface and thin atmosphere being measured through intensive photography.

That includes imaging ... 5 percent of the planet that hadn't been seen, Finnegan said. Now, 95 percent of the planet's surface has been imaged at fairly high resolution.