In our previous article, we started to understand about the Mariner 10 space probe and discussed about how this mission had set many milestones. Today we will breeze through the journey of Mariner 10 and its important outcomes.
When Mariner 10 lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 3, 1973, very little was known about our neighbors in the solar system. Mariner 10 would only have quick flybys past Venus and Mercury, to be sure. But there was a lot that could be glimpsed even in a short span of time.
Astronomers were curious about Mercury’s high density, and what lay inside the planet’s core. The running hypothesis, according to NASA, was that the planet’s density was due to a high concentration of metals. But there were questions about the exact composition of the core, and how that core was put together during the early days of Mercury’s formation.
Mariner Meets Mercury
Mariner 10 showed a bleak planet that looked similar to the surface of the moon. Craters and bare ground showed up in the pictures. One significant difference was the presence of scarps, which to scientists suggested that the planet’s crust might have shrunk at some time during its history.
Another surprise came when Mariner 10 took measurements of the magnetic environment around Mercury. The instruments showed that Mercury had a small magnetic field that is about one-sixtieth as strong as that of Earth’s. Scientists believed that Mercury’s magnetic field came from within the planet rather than being generated through the planet’s interaction with the solar wind.
In our next article, we will continue with this and discuss the various instruments onboard and their performance during the mission. Till then take care!