Delaying Death: Mercury Spacecraft Firing Engines To Stay Up Until 2015

Illustration of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury (NASA/JPL/APL)

Illustration of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury (NASA/JPL/APL)

Don’t take these spectacular Mercury images (below the jump) for granted. Three weeks ago, NASA’s orbiting Mercury spacecraft did an engine fire to boost its altitude above the hothouse planet. Another one is scheduled for January.

But all this will do is delay the end of the long-running mission — the first one to orbit Mercury — until early 2015, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory wrote in an update. These maneuvers “extend orbital operations and delay the probe’s inevitable impact onto Mercury’s surface until early next spring,” the organization said in a statement.

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© Elizabeth Howell for Universe Today, 2014. |
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“Eye of Sauron” Galaxy Used For New Method of Galactic Surveying

Image of the spiral galaxy NGC 4151, aka “The Eye of Sauron”. Credit: NASA/Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, La Palma/Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope/NSF/NRAO/VLA

Determining the distance of galaxies from our Solar System is a tricky business. Knowing just how far other galaxies are in relation to our own is not only key to understanding the size of the universe, but its age as well. In the past, this process relied on finding stars in other galaxies whose absolute light output was measurable. By gauging the brightness of these stars, scientists have been able to survey certain galaxies that lie 300 million light years from us.

However, a new and more accurate method has been developed, thanks to a team of scientists led by Dr. Sebastian Hoenig from the University of Southampton. Similar to what land surveyors use here on Earth, they measured the physical and angular (or apparent) size of a standard ruler in the galaxy to calibrate distance measurements.
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