Scientific Colloquium
January 17, 2014

"Exploring Mercury: Scientific Results from the MESSENGER Mission"

As the smallest planet in our solar system, and the closest to the Sun, Mercury represents an end-member of planetary formation processes. Although visible to the naked eye, it is difficult to study due to its proximity to the Sun. Since March of 2011, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has been in orbit around Mercury and its suite of scientific instruments have returned a wealth of data about the planet's surface, interior, magnetic field, and exosphere. This talk will review the mission, its key scientific discoveries and new puzzles raised by the MESSENGER data about our solar system's enigmatic innermost planet.

About the speaker:

Larry R. Nittler studies the origin and evolution of stars, the Galaxy, and the Solar System, both through laboratory analysis of extraterrestrial materials and through planetary remote sensing. A 1996 PhD graduate of Washington University, Larry R. Nittler has been a member of the research staff of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington since 2001. His analysis of measurements from the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission helped provide the first chemical analyses of a minor planet and he has led laboratory investigations of meteorites, cosmic dust particles, and samples returned by NASA's Stardust and Genesis missions. As Deputy Principal Investigator of the MESSENGER mission, he is actively working on determining the chemical composition of the planet Mercury. He received the Alfred O. Nier prize of the Meteoritical Society in 2001 and was named a Fellow of the same society in 2010. Asteroid 5992 Nittler is named in his honor.

Return to Schedule