A view of Mercury captured during MESSENGER's mission (Photo: NASA/JPL)
Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, remained relatively unexplored until NASA’s MESSENGER probe orbited and studied it from 2011 to 2015. This mission permitted scientists to observe never-before-seen geologic formations, map ancient volatile chemicals trapped in polar craters, and explore the unexpectedly complex structures of the thin atmosphere and dynamic magnetosphere. MESSENGER results have transformed the understanding of Mercury, turning formation theories on their head and forcing scientists to reexamine what was once thought to be known about the first rock from the sun.
Ronald J. Vervack Jr., who worked on the MESSENGER mission, highlights how Mercury went from merely the smallest planet to a world from which much can be learned about the formation, evolution, and current state of the solar system. Vervack is a principal professional staff scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
The Grand Tour of the Solar System series treks to the Sun and the four inner terrestrial planets before traveling outward to the asteroid belt, four Jovian planets, and beyond. At each session, a professional astronomer explores a solar system body, presenting the latest research.
Following the talk and a question-and-answer period, Peter Plavchan, a professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, brings that night’s sky right into participants’ living rooms via remote control of the university observatory, weather permitting.
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