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October 7, 2008

Flybys breaking out all over

Posted: 10:44 AM ET

Here are the first images from the MESSENGER spacecraft's Monday flyby of Mercury.

Image of craters on Mercury taken Oct. 6. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

MESSENGER will fly by the planet once more in September 2009. The spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011.

In the meantime, the Cassini spacecraft is getting ready to execute two more flybys of Saturn's moon Enceladus (pronounced in-SELL-uh-dus) this month. Enceladus, you may recall, is the moon that is spewing cold geysers of water into space, which suggests to scientists there is liquid water (possibly even an ocean) under its surface.

The first flyby, set for Thursday October 9th, is arguably the more exciting of the two. Cassini will pass just 16 miles over the surface of the moon, directly through the geyser plume. The emphasis on this flyby will be to use the on-board science instruments to learn more about its composition. Data from previous flybys indicate that, in addition to water vapor, water ice, and dust, the plume also contains trace amounts of organic chemicals. The presence of organics has certainly perked up the antennae of the astrobiology community. In only a short period of time this little moon has shot to near the top of the list of promising places to look for extra-terrestrial microbial life.

The second Enceladus flyby of the month is set for Oct. 31. Cassini will fly 122 miles over the surface, and use on-board cameras to photograph surface fractures in the south polar region.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Astrobiology • Cassini • Enceladus • Mercury • MESSENGER • NASA • Saturn • Space

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Wally   October 7th, 2008 11:16 am ET

A waste of money !

Franko   October 7th, 2008 11:27 am ET

life on Mercury, only in the cold, or in the
Twilight of the slowly moving zone of Morning ?
Eco Ethical to make Super Sized burgers from glow in the dark bugs ?
Or do the Nepharin want to make Human burgers of US ?

John   October 7th, 2008 1:02 pm ET

Spectacular! Another great achievement for NASA. Wally: what waste of money? It's not like NASA shoots $500 million into space – the money spent goes straight to Earth's economy.

Larian LeQuella   October 7th, 2008 1:20 pm ET

Wally, I'm sure that when you need a pacemaker, or perhaps a designer drug to treat a debilitating disease, all that research was a waste of money too. What's so bad about trying to figure out more stuff about our little patch of the universe?

Franko... Huh? Not sure what you are talking about (actually, I've been itching to say that I NEVER understand your ramblings). I believe the Astrobiology tag was for Enceladus (although I personally think that may be stretching observations with wishful thinking at this point in our understanding).

All in all, it's an exciting time to be at the JPL I'm sure!

Franko   October 7th, 2008 2:07 pm ET

"some of these craters contain large areas in which temperatures never exceed the limit 110K. Such craters can be cold trap for stable ice and other volatiles deposits, as NH3, CO2."

Beneath the ices, lakes, just like on Earth ?
Black smokers, the life source, just like beneath the oceans on Earth ?
Camp out, and a good place for ice fishing, just like on Earth ?

Chet   October 7th, 2008 3:35 pm ET

Life could have existed on Mars, but probobaly never on Mercury because of the relative position to the sun and the magnetic field. Mercury's version of the Van Halen Belt probobaly would not protect life from the solar flares.

Franko   October 7th, 2008 3:47 pm ET

Craters filled with ice could be the cradles of life.
Water underneath, shielded by ice, from the solar flares.
Out crawls a bug to get solar flare genetically mutated

Phil   October 7th, 2008 5:01 pm ET

Waste of money?

Im sure thats what people in Spain said when Columbus left on his voyage..

And look how that "waste of money" turned out..

talk about narrow minded and nearsighted.

S Callahan   October 7th, 2008 5:43 pm ET

I was hoping to see more pics made avaiable..even on NASA's site it was limited.
I think it's wonderful to explore and encourge it.....still a long way off for real info (2011)

Derek   October 7th, 2008 5:48 pm ET

Chet: Van Halen Belt? That is absolutely hilarious. You mean Van Allen right. Though I am sure Van Halen would not mind.

Wally: Want to know what's a waste of money: the war in Iraq. You want to know what's a waste of money? A bridge to nowhere. Maybe you didn't know that NASA contributes billions of dollars to state economies across the nation. Maybe you didn't know that NASA generates thousands of jobs. Maybe you didn't know that finding out more about our solar system and our Universe will help us better understand how we got to where we are now and if we are alone or if there are others out there like us. It will also be hugely important when we inevitably leave our planet to colonize the cosmos. Besides, the solar system has a wealth of resources available for extraction and use.

Larian: Franko is certainly an odd character. At least his comments bring some sort of smile to my face...not to mention the palm of my hand.

Phyllis   October 7th, 2008 5:55 pm ET

To Chet: I think you mean the Van Allen belt. Van Halen is a band, which, to my knowledge, does not perform on Mercury.

Ray G.   October 7th, 2008 5:56 pm ET

Yea ... Franko rocks!

Ray G.   October 7th, 2008 6:23 pm ET

FYI – Have just returned from Bolivar Peninsula to check out what was left of my old beach house post-Ike; took digital photos for insurance.. Back home, turned on my laptop to upload photos, but got sidetracked viewing new flyby images of Mercury. Now comparing the two sets of images, it's hard to say which looks more desolate.

Johnny Prov   October 7th, 2008 11:20 pm ET

I am sorry but doesn't the taxpayer foot the majority of NASA's budget explain to me again why they haven't released ALL the pictures? I paid for this garbage the least they could do is show me ALL of the worthless pictures they took of a planet that we'll never be able to approach due to its location in relation to the sun.

Nick B   October 7th, 2008 11:39 pm ET

Wally, Wally, Wally,
The waist of money would be not to explore and try to understand something bigger than ourselves.
As long as all we focus on is food and shelter then we lose our ability to dream and strive.
Better to starve than to lose our sense of wonder and adventure.

Robert   October 8th, 2008 10:05 am ET

Wally: Waste of Money???? Wait, let me get the Bounty paper towel, so you can wipe the crap that is coming from your mouth.

Space exploration may one day save the human race.

Oh, right, you believe in Creationism! Are you sure you are not Sarah Palin?

Kevin   October 8th, 2008 12:55 pm ET

Ah, but has Van Halen ever released music on the Mercury label?

Dennis   October 8th, 2008 1:04 pm ET

For the fiscally conscious and environmentally friendly crowd, consider these two facts:

1. Nuclear fusion – the clean and safe technology that will likely be powering the planet in 20-30 years requires Helium 3 for fuel. It's very rare on earth, but extremely plentiful on the moon.
2. Exploration a waste of money? It's estimated that minerals from the asteroid, Amun (fairly close to Earth), are worth approximately $20 trillion at current market prices.

Space exploration isn't daytrading – we're investing in our future.

Kelley   October 8th, 2008 1:23 pm ET

If you want to know what NASA has done for us, check out their Spinoff page, at Technology fields helped by NASA include medical research, biology, photography, computers, and many others. They have a database of hundreds of items. Check it out.

Eddie   October 8th, 2008 5:21 pm ET

Johnny Prov has a good point...why doesn't NASA release ALL of the photos. By law they are in the public domain!

Pat Mitchell   October 8th, 2008 6:27 pm ET

Thank you for the great minds that take us outside our small expand our horizons...beautiful images I am in awe..looking forward to the pictures from today..Oct.9

Taylor   October 8th, 2008 11:12 pm ET

Anyone know why these pictures are in black and white? I saw Messenger take colored pictures of Earth. What gives guys?

dffk   October 9th, 2008 12:44 am ET

Blah, blah! The photos are great but do we really need to yak up a storm? Enjoy and shut up.

Franko   October 9th, 2008 6:18 am ET

"discovered an isolated community of bacteria nearly two miles underground that derives all of its energy from the decay of radioactive rocks rather than from sunlight."

Radioactive, energized, Earth bacteria. Black Smokers under Mercury ice ?
Not intelligently designed to make rockets for space travel ?
Creeping into the Black Smokers to evolve into Stone Men ?
Silicon, not carbon based, supersmart, tougher than a Martian Robot ?

SD   October 11th, 2008 10:53 am ET

Am happy to see space exploration taking place, but am tired of all these unmanned missions.

How about sending PEOPLE to Mars or some place like that?

Am tired of hearing that it might happen by 2020 or 2050..........DO IT NOW!

Franko   October 12th, 2008 2:19 am ET

People are too costly to send, unless, red carpet, robot prepaired.
First death on the treck to Mars, bad advertising, running eterally.

More robots, now that the production line is speeded up.
Self replicating, newer quite the same, mutating, into people eaters ?

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