NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft on Thursday night became the first to achieve orbit around Mercury, the space agency announced.
Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed MESSENGER achieved orbit at 9:10 p.m. ET, NASA said.
Aboard the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft are seven science instruments, fortified against the intense heat and cold near the solar system's innermost planet. They will retrieve data on Mercury's geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere and plasma environment, according to NASA.
According to National Geographic, temperatures on Mercury's surface can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 Celsius). Because the planet has no atmosphere to retain that heat, nighttime temperatures can drop to minus 280 degrees (minus 170 degrees Celsius).
The instruments will be turned on and checked out beginning March 23 and, on April 4, the primary science phase of the mission will begin, NASA said in a statement.