Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

An Overlooked Planet Gets Its Closeup

Remember Mercury? Sure you do — first planet in the solar system, hot as blazes on one side and paralyzingly cold on the other? You could be forgiven for overlooking Mercury since NASA itself hadn't given it much thought since 1974, when the Mariner 10 probe made a few flybys. This year, the space agency made up for that when the Messenger probe went into orbit around Mercury, becoming the first spacecraft ever to achieve that singular bit of flying. The mission, designed to study Mercury's surface and interior and learn more about its origins, was intended to end in 2012, but it's going so well it's been extended until 2013. The innermost planet may not have the beauty of a Saturn or the biological potential of a Mars, but every world deserves a little love — and the baby of the sun's brood is finally getting its share.