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This would indicate an interaction between the magnetosphere and the planet's surface. The amplitude of the retrograde motion is small, so the overall effect is that, for two or three weeks, the Sun is almost stationary overhead, and is at its most brilliant because Mercury is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun. In addition to continued observations and mapping of Mercury, MESSENGER observed the 2012 solar maximum. In 1639, Giovanni Zupi used a telescope to discover that the planet had orbital phases similar to Venus and the Moon. Mercury can be easily seen from the tropics and subtropics more than from higher latitudes. He suggested, among possible explanations, that another planet (or perhaps instead a series of smaller 'corpuscules') might exist in an orbit even closer to the Sun than that of Mercury, to account for this perturbation. In the diagram the varying distance of Mercury to the Sun is represented by the size of the planet, which is inversely proportional to Mercury's distance from the Sun. [189] The mapper probe carries an array of spectrometers similar to those on MESSENGER, and will study the planet at many different wavelengths including infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray and gamma ray.[191]. [112], The perihelion precession of Mercury is 5,600 arcseconds (1.5556°) per century relative to Earth, or 574.10±0.65 arcseconds per century[113] relative to the inertial ICRF. Care must be taken to ensure the instrument isn't pointed directly towards the Sun because of the risk for eye damage. Thus, to a hypothetical observer on Mercury, the Sun appears to move in a retrograde direction. For many years after the Mariner 10 encounters, the origin of Mercury's magnetic field remained the subject of several competing theories. [180] A first fly-by of Mercury occurred on January 14, 2008, a second on October 6, 2008,[181] and a third on September 29, 2009. The planet is rendered invisible from Earth on both of these occasions because of its being obscured by the Sun,[119] except its new phase during a transit. 17, June 10, 1975. The MESSENGER observations showed the reconnection rate is ten times higher at Mercury, but its proximity to the Sun only accounts for about a third of the reconnection rate observed by MESSENGER. [2], The fourth element that was discovered in Mercury's exosphere was sodium. This made close observation of both sides of the planet impossible,[173] and resulted in the mapping of less than 45% of the planet's surface. The magnetic-field strength at Mercury's equator is about 300 nT. The first and last quarter phases occur at greatest elongation east and west of the Sun, respectively. T The second is the MESSENGER spacecraft, which after three Mercury flybys between 2008 and 2009, attained orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011,[126] to study and map the rest of the planet. MESSENGER's principal investigator Sean Solomon is quoted in The New York Times estimating the volume of the ice to be large enough to "encase Washington, D.C., in a frozen block two and a half miles deep". The fifth element that was discovered in Mercury's exosphere was potassium. [161], Italian astronomer Giuseppe Colombo noted that the rotation value was about two-thirds of Mercury's orbital period, and proposed that the planet's orbital and rotational periods were locked into a 3:2 rather than a 1:1 resonance. [149]), In India, the Kerala school astronomer Nilakantha Somayaji in the 15th century developed a partially heliocentric planetary model in which Mercury orbits the Sun, which in turn orbits Earth, similar to the Tychonic system later proposed by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century. Therefore, a small crater further west was chosen, called Hun Kal, which provides the exact reference point for measuring longitude. {\displaystyle a} [113] In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity provided the explanation for the observed precession, by formalizing gravitation as being mediated by the curvature of spacetime. However, with noticeable eccentricity, like that of Mercury's orbit, the tidal force has a maximum at perihelion and therefore stabilizes resonances, like 3:2, enforcing that the planet points its axis of least inertia roughly at the Sun when passing through perihelion. To this end, the probe carried imaging devices that gathered much-higher-resolution images of much more of Mercury than Mariner 10, assorted spectrometers to determine abundances of elements in the crust, and magnetometers and devices to measure velocities of charged particles. [182] Most of the hemisphere not imaged by Mariner 10 was mapped during these fly-bys. Mercury is the smallest and least massive of the eight planets. The first orbital image of Mercury was obtained on March 29, 2011. To land safely or enter a stable orbit the spacecraft would rely entirely on rocket motors. [171] Mariner 10 provided the first close-up images of Mercury's surface, which immediately showed its heavily cratered nature, and revealed many other types of geological features, such as the giant scarps that were later ascribed to the effect of the planet shrinking slightly as its iron core cools. T [188], The European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency developed and launched a joint mission called BepiColombo, which will orbit Mercury with two probes: one to map the planet and the other to study its magnetosphere. [95] Conversely, there are two other points on the equator, 90 degrees of longitude apart from the first ones, where the Sun passes overhead only when the planet is at aphelion in alternate years, when the apparent motion of the Sun in Mercury's sky is relatively rapid. The verbs "rotate" and "revolve" mean doing rotation and revolution, respectively. [80] Studies indicate that, at times, sodium emissions are localized at points that correspond to the planet's magnetic poles. [121] The opposite is true for Venus, which appears brightest when it is a crescent, because it is much closer to Earth than when gibbous. [170], The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA's Mariner 10 (1974–1975). − This large range arises from the planet's high orbital eccentricity. [89], Mercury's orbit is inclined by 7 degrees to the plane of Earth's orbit (the ecliptic), as shown in the diagram on the right. [179], A second NASA mission to Mercury, named MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), was launched on August 3, 2004. The elements may come from either the solar wind or from the planetary crust. ) This is because, coincidentally, Mercury's rotation period is almost exactly half of its synodic period with respect to Earth. [121][122], Nonetheless, the brightest (full phase) appearance of Mercury is an essentially impossible time for practical observation, because of the extreme proximity of the Sun. The detection of high amounts of water-related ions like O+, OH−, and H3O+ was a surprise. [136], The Greco-Egyptian[137] astronomer Ptolemy wrote about the possibility of planetary transits across the face of the Sun in his work Planetary Hypotheses. [81] Many of the planet's surface features, particularly the albedo features, take their names from Antoniadi's map. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Radio-engineering and Electronics, "The MeanPlane (Invariable plane) of the Solar System passing through the barycenter", "HORIZONS Web-Interface for Mercury Major Body", "The gravity field, orientation, and ephemeris of Mercury from MESSENGER observations after three years in orbit", "Near-Surface Temperatures on Mercury and the Moon and the Stability of Polar Ice Deposits", "Animated clip of orbit and rotation of Mercury", "NASA Completes MESSENGER Mission with Expected Impact on Mercury's Surface", "From Mercury orbit, MESSENGER watches a lunar eclipse", "Innovative use of pressurant extends MESSENGER's Mercury mission", "MESSENGER Provides New Look at Mercury's Surprising Core and Landscape Curiosities", "Scientists find evidence Mercury has a solid inner core", "Mercury has molten core, Cornell researcher shows", "Mercury's Core Molten, Radar Study Shows", "Thickness of the crust of Mercury from geoid-to-topography ratios", "Collisional stripping of Mercury's mantle", "Messenger's message from Mercury: Time to rewrite the textbooks", "Messenger sheds light on Mercury's formation", "Categories for Naming Features on Planets and Satellites", "Tectonic Evolution of the Terrestrial Planets", "Ballet isn't rocket science, but the two aren't mutually exclusive, either", "Bizarre spider scar found on Mercury's surface", "A Serenitatis origin for the Imbrian grooves and South Pole-Aitken thorium anomaly", "Mercuryquakes May Currently Shake Up the Tiny Planet", "Flood Volcanism in the Northern High Latitudes of Mercury Revealed by, "Long-lived explosive volcanism on Mercury", "Global inventory and characterization of pyroclastic deposits on Mercury: New insights into pyroclastic activity from MESSENGER orbital data", "Prolonged eruptive history of a compound volcano on Mercury: Volcanic and tectonic implications", "On Closest Planet to the Sun, NASA Finds Lots of Ice", "MESSENGER Scientists 'Astonished' to Find Water in Mercury's Thin Atmosphere", "Instrument Shows What Planet Mercury Is Made Of", "Magnetic Tornadoes Could Liberate Mercury's Tenuous Atmosphere", "Space Topics: Compare the Planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, The Moon, and Mars", "Large Longitude Libration of Mercury Reveals a Molten Core", "BBC Radio 4 – More or Less, Sugar, Outdoors Play and Planets", "USGS Astrogeology: Rotation and pole position for the Sun and planets (IAU WGCCRE)", "Lettre de M. 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