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IntroductionBecause Mercury is so close to the Sun, it is hard to directly observe from Earth except during dawn or twilight, when the Sun's brightness doesn't outshine little Mercury. However, 13 times each century, observers on Earth can watch Mercury pass across the face of the Sun, an event called a transit. These rare transits fall within several days of 8 May and 10 November. The first transits of Mercury in the 21st century occurred May 7, 2003, Nov. 8, 2006, and May 9, 2016. The next one will be Nov. 11, 2019.
The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was Mariner 10, which imaged about 45 percent of the surface. And the MESSENGER spacecraft flew by Mercury three times and orbited the planet for four years before crashing on its surface. The European Space Agency is planning to launch their first mission to explore Mercury—BepiColombo—in 2018.
- 1631: Thomas Harriott and Galileo Galilei observe Mercury with the newly invented telescope.
- 1631: Pierre Gassendi uses a telescope to watch from Earth as Mercury crosses the face of the Sun.
- 1965: Incorrectly believing for centuries that the same side of Mercury always faces the Sun, astronomers using radar find that the planet rotates three times for every two orbits.
- 1974-1975: Mariner 10 photographs roughly half of Mercury's surface during three flybys.
- 1991: Scientists using Earth-based radar find signs of ice locked in permanently shadowed areas of craters in Mercury's polar regions.
- 2008-2009: MESSENGER observes Mercury during three flybys.
- 2011: MESSENGER begins its orbital mission at Mercury, yielding a treasure trove of images, compositional data and scientific discoveries.
- 2015: MESSENGER is deliberately crashed into Mercury after expending all its propellant, ending its mission.
Astronauts pave the way for human exploration beyond our Earth. They are pilots, scientists, engineers, teachers, and more.
Project managers guide missions from concept to completion, working closely with team members to accomplish what they set out to do.
Sample processors protect and preserve samples delivered back to Earth so they can be studied by scientists.
The first thing that fired my imagination for planetary science was when the NASA Voyager spacecraft discovered active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.
Melding science with design, artists create everything from large-scale installations to the NASA posters hanging in your bedroom.
Media specialists tells stories across social media and help feature missions and people on TV and in films, books, magazines, and news sites.
Writers/producers capture the incredible stories of NASA's missions and people and share them with the world.
Administrators and directors work out of NASA headquarters, prioritizing science questions and seeking to expand the frontiers of discovery.
Whether it's introducing kids to space or teaching physics to PhD candidates, educators help share their knowledge with the public.
Engineers design and build all types of machines, from what a spacecraft looks like to the software that directs where a rover goes each day.
From an astrophysicist to a volcanologist, scientists of all types pose questions and help find answers to the mysteries of our universe.
I get to see something every day that most people only get to read about in books. I get to be up close and personal with the building blocks of our Universe.