Mercury, the tiny planet closest to the Sun, is the least explored planet. The Messenger spacecraft is the first to orbit Mercury, and has yielded the first return of new spacecraft data from Mercury since the Mariner 10 flyby more than 30 years ago. Surprising new information from the mission may rewrite what scientists believe about the growth of planets.
Findings from the Messenger mission will be discussed in an ASA lecture beginning at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 27) by William C. Feldman, one of the world’s leading experts in planetary neutron spectrometry which has a unique capability to detect the presence of hydrogen atoms, indicating the presence of water. He provided the design for the neutron spectrometer sensor on the Messenger spacecraft , and he leads the analysis of data from that sensor.
An overarching goal of his research, Feldman says, is to “develop a deep understanding of mechanisms that govern both the similarities and differences between the various terrestrial-like bodies in the solar system.”
According to data gleaned by the Messenger spacecraft, Mercury has a lopsided magnetic field, much more sulfur in the rocks than expected, a very thin atmosphere of metal atoms like calcium and magnesium, and strange “hollows” across its surface that may hint at present-day geologic activity.
The bottoms of craters around the poles are in perpetual shadow, and the data from Messenger showed that these regions are covered with vast amounts of water ice, despite the fact that temperatures at the equator can approach the temperature of melting lead.
Feldman earned a B.S. in Physics from MIT in 1961 and a Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University in 1968. He is currently with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson after a long and distinguished career at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Submitted by Drew Potter, Academy Village Volunteer