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Submission + - NASA Mercury Probe Will Answer Big Questions (ibtimes.com) 1

RedEaredSlider writes: Next month, the first space probe in nearly 40 years will approach the planet Mercury, with an array of instruments that could help answer fundamental questions about how planets form.

The mission is called MESSENGER, for Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging. On March 17 it will pull into orbit around mercury, after more than six years of maneuvering between the Earth, Venus and Mercury itself.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, completing one of its revolutions in only 88 days. Surface temperatures on during the day top out at 426 degrees Celsius (798 degrees Fahrenheit) — hot enough that lead and zinc would melt like ice on a hot day. Nighttime temperatures plunge to -173 degrees C (-279 F), cold enough to liquefy neon gas. Mercury also spins very slowly, and does so in such a way that a single day on Mercury lasts 176 days — two of the planet's years.

"You can't get very far in this world without your dossier being there first." -- Arthur Miller