Grab Your Telescopes on Sunday

Mercury will be visible Sunday (March 13, 2011) to those with telescopes. Look to the west after sunset. (Jupiter will be about 10 degrees above the western horizon. Mercury will be about finger’s width to the right of Jupiter.)

For those of us who haven’t really studied the planets, Mercury is the closest to the sun. Mercury is so close to the sun, that the planet orbits the sun every 88 Earth days– faster than any other planet. However, it takes Mercury 59 Earth days to rotate around its axis. So, a solar day on Mercury — from noon to noon at the same spot — lasts 176 Earth days, which is two Mercury years.

And, a small (but very expensive)  NASA spacecraft called Messenger will enter into Mercury’s orbit on Thursday (March 17, 2011). The   Messenger system engineering chief Eric Finnegan says that the overall heat on the sunny side of Mercury will melt parts of some of Messenger’s instruments, by design, acting as a heat buffer for the more sensitive parts of the equipment. Then the melted parts will refreeze when the spacecraft hits a cooler zone.

Read an article here.

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