Messenger to flyby Mercury on Monday

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Washington, Jan 12 (UNI) NASA's Messenger spacecraft will fly over sun's closest neighbour Mercury on Monday gathering exclusive pictures and precious data about the planet, providing new insights into the study of solar system.

The spacecraft will fly within 125 miles of Mercury's surface at a mindboggling speed of 141,000 miles per hour.

The Messenger (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) has already flown by Venus twice and will make the first of three flybys of Mercury next week before finally settling into orbit around Mercury in 2011.

The only other time Mercury was visited by a spacecraft was in 1974 and 1975, when NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft made three flybys and mapped roughly 45 per cent of the bizarre planet's hot, rocky surface, according to NASA.

The car-sized spacecraft is carrying seven instruments-- a camera, a magnetometer, an altimeter and four spectrometers.

By analysing the data scientists would be able to determine the distribution and abundance of various minerals and gases on the planet's surface and its atmosphere.

''Believe it or not, scientists have only a vague idea today about the composition of Mercury's surface,'' Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) Senior Research Associate William McClintock was quoted by Science Daily as saying.

The data will be sent via NASA's Deep Space Network to the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University-- which is managing the mission for NASA.

Mercury is about two-thirds of the way nearer to the sun than Earth with daytime temperatures of about 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

UNI XC YA MSJ KP1356

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