NASA orbits Mercury for first time with Messenger probe


For the first time in human history, an Earth-made vehicle has successfully entered the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to our sun.

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft entered Mercury’s orbit at about 9:15pm EST on Thursday after a 30-minute rocket blast pushed the unmanned probe into the planet’s gravitational pull, the Los Angeles Times reports. Announcement of Messenger’s orbit entry was met with jubilation from the mission control room at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland.

About 40 minutes after confirmation of Messenger’s entry into Mercury’s orbit, mission lead engineer Eric Finnegan declared that the team had pulled off the unprecedented with near-perfect accuracy. “We hit the trajectory to within half a sigma, for my engineer friends in the crowd,” Finnegan tells the LA Times. “It was right on the money.”

Messenger, which originally launched in 2004, will photograph Mercury from its close proximity, and send those images back to NASA for analysis. This will help to better discover the planet’s composition, magnetic fields, atmosphere and other details.

In the 6.5 years the probe has been in space, Messenger — which stands for “MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging” — has traveled a total of about 4.9 billion miles, during which it completed 15 orbits of the sun. It has reached near-record speeds of about 140,000 mph.

While the craft only measures 4.7-feet-tall by 6.1-feet-wide by 4.2-feet-deep, it weighed approximately 2,420 pounds when it launched. About 55 percent of that weight — 1,320 pounds — was fuel. Messenger’s dry weight is only about 1,100 pounds. (For more interesting facts about Messenger, click here.)

Mercury is located about 39 million miles from the sun — about three times closer than Earth, which orbits at about 93 million miles from the center of our solar system.

Watch a brief animated simulation that shows Messenger’s entry into Mercury’s orbit:

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Hold on to your butts: These are the fastest cars in the world

Think your car is unbelievably fast? Think again. From wind-cheating bodywork to powerful engines, these cars were designed for the singular pursuit of speed (and it shows).

Sleep comfortably under the stars in one of the best tents

An essential piece of gear whether you're camping in your backyard or on a multi-day backpacking trip, here are our picks of the best tents currently on the market from car camping varieties to the best three-person option.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards

Here's how to download a YouTube video to watch offline later

Learning how to download YouTube videos is easier than you might think. There are plenty of great tools you can use, both online and offline. These are our favorites and a step by step guide on how to use them.

Carbuying can be exhausting: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.

Your ‘Do Not Track’ tool might be helping websites track you, study says

New research from the "Do Not Track" features embedded in popular browsers are being ignored, opening up the possibility of consumers having their information targeted by specific ads based on their web histories and cookies. 

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.

Afraid that Bitcoin could be a bubble? Here's how to sell what you've got

If you're investing in cryptocurrencies, it's important to have your exit strategy in place if prices start to crash. If you've decided it's time to get out or just want to learn how to sell Bitcoins, here's how to get started.

Don't take your ISP's word for it: Here's how to test your internet speed

If you're worried that you aren't getting the most from your internet package, speed tests are a great way to find out what your real connection is capable of. Here are the best internet speed tests available today.

Feed your fandom: These are the best YouTube channels for sports lovers

If you're a cable cutter who still wants to enjoy quality sports highlights and analysis, YouTube is the place to go. There are plenty of great sports-centric channels on YouTube, each of which provides great highlights and top-shelf…
Social Media

YouTube is back after crashing for users around the world

It's rare to see YouTube suffer serious issues, but the site went down around the world for a period of time on October 16. It's back now, and we can confirm it's loading normally on desktop and mobile.

Chrome 70 is now available and won’t automatically log you in to the browser

Google has officially launched Chrome version 70 on Windows Mac and Linux. The update introduces some new Progressive Web App integrations on Windows 10 and also tweaks the much controversial auto login with Google Account feature.
Smart Home

Here’s everything you need to know about Amazon Prime Pantry

The marvels of the Internet have made it possible to do all your shopping from the comfort of your living room. Amazon Prime Pantry allows you to buy groceries and household items online. Here's more info about the service.