The Mercury Messenger newsletter relaunches as we draw closer to the time of the launch of the first mission to return to Mercury in three decades (also fortuitously called the Mercury Messenger!).
In fact, this newsletter was initiated over a decade ago, when a return mission to Mercury was our apparently impossible dream. The newsletter was a much-requested follow-up to a Mercury "summit" that was held in the 1980s, and the book Mercury that resulted from it. The workshop, organized by Clark Chapman and Faith Vilas, was held in the desert outside of Tucson, Arizona, in the middle of August. Many members of the planetary research community were skeptical that such a meeting in such a setting would draw more than a handful of people. After all, the results from the Mariner 10 mission to Mercury, flown in 1973 and 1974, had led to the consensus that Mercury was very lunarlike and thus not very interesting. One hundred people registered and presented results that clearly indicated a dramatic shift in thinking, effectively destroying the myth that Mercury is "the boring planet." What were some of the issues raised by these results?
- Very active groundbased observation programs have led to the discovery of an atmosphere and further characterization of the regolith by means of visual and near-visual observations, as well as imaging and characterization of topography and roughness for the hemisphere left unimaged by Mariner 10, which may be very different from the imaged hemisphere.
- Recalibration and in-depth analysis of the Mariner 10 data has led to extensive reevaluation of the models for the evolution of Mercury's surface and interior, indicating a far more volcanically active and Earthlike planet.
- Recognition that we have a dearth of information about Mercury that is crucial for resolution of recently raised issues on the origin of the solar system has become far more widespread.
The Mercury Messenger is designed to serve a diverse group, including those actively studying Mercury as well as those who want to keep track of any new developments. The active research group has historically been of modest size, and yet it extends across a broad range of disciplines and institutions, which makes keeping track of related Mercury work particularly challenging. The newsletter is designed to raise the level of visibility for the ongoing work on a planet that, although relatively poorly understood and difficult to study, continues to provide crucial understanding about the solar system, often in unexpected ways. The newsletter is meant to encourage the maintenance and development of Mercury observational and analysis programs and to be an effective way of "getting the word out" and keeping the level of interest high enough to sustain ongoing study of Mercury. Not so long ago, who would have believed that the community as a whole would support the selection of a return mission to Mercury, which is now about to be launched? In fact, the hiatus in publication of the newsletter is a result of feeling we could take a little break while we enjoyed the prospect of another mission to Mercury.
Enjoy the past, current, and future issues, and be sure to send us your comments and ideas for future issues. Thank you for your support.
Pamela Clark, Editor