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Mariner 10

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The Mariner 10 probe.
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The Mariner 10 probe.

Mariner 10 was the last spacecraft of the Mariner program, launched on November 3, 1973.

An unmanned space mission it was launched approximately 2 years after Mariner 9 and its mission was to explore Mercury and Venus.

Mariner 10 made use of a "gravitational slingshot", using Venus to bend its flight path and bring its perihelion down to the level of Mercury's orbit. It used the solar radiation pressure on its solar panels and its high-gain antenna as a major means of spacecraft attitude control during flight. Using a near-ultraviolet filter, it photographed the Venusian chevron clouds and performed other atmospheric studies.

On March 29 and September 21, 1974, and March 16, 1975; Mariner 10 passed by Mercury and after a mid-course correction on March 16, 1974, was able to map 40-45% of the planet. Its radiometer readings suggested Mercury has a night time temperature of 183C (-297F) and maximum daytime temperatures of 187C (368F). The first encounter was at 20:47 UT on March 29, 1974 at a range of 703 kilometres (436.5 miles). Having looped once around the Sun whilst Mercury completed two orbits, Mariner 10 flew by Mercury once more on September 21, 1974 at a more distant range of 48,070 km (29,850 mi). A third and final encounter, the closest to Mercury, took place on March 16, 1975 at a range of 327 km (203 mi). Contact with the spacecraft was terminated on March 24, 1975.

Among the mysteries from the data collected, scientists have developed a theory that the planet is shrinking, contracting in on itself as its core slowly freezes. Mariner was unable to provide more information on that question.

Scientists hope to find out more from the latest mission to Mercury, MESSENGER, which was launched August 3, 2004 and will arrive at Mercury in March, 2011 for a year long orbit.

Mariner 11 and Mariner 12 were redesignated as Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.

External links

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