Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

The Mercury Probe

If the solar system has a flame-roasted planet, it's Mercury, where the sun pushes surface temperatures to 800°F (426°C). That brutal environment is one reason no NASA probe has visited Mercury since 1975. But Messenger — the space agency's new Mercury ship — can take the heat. Having just completed a flyby a mere 141 miles (228 km) above the planet's surface, it's preparing to enter Mercury's orbit in 2011. The probe will survey parts of the world never before seen — and will do so in comfort. Covered in an insulating ceramic skin, it will endure temperatures of 700°F (370°C) on its exterior; inside, it will operate at a room-temperature 70°F (20°C).