After traveling millions of kilometers toward the center of the Sol System, the Messenger probe will finally be able to call Mercury home tomorrow by establishing an orbit around the first “rock” from the Sun.

While Messenger will gather a plethora of data about the sun baked world, the Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrometer instrument could help determine whether Mercury is not only safe to live upon, but worth mining as well.

The gamma-ray device needs to cool down starting March 22 to function — a special challenge so close to the sun. It will measure gamma-ray emissions from Mercury’s surface to determine the abundance of elements in the crust, including reflective materials at the planet’s poles that might be water ice.

On March 23, most of the other instruments should turn on, researchers said. Messenger’s magnetometer will measure the unexpected magnetic field around Mercury in detail to determine its strength, while the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer will study the planet’s tenuous atmosphere by measuring ultraviolet light emissions. (

If proven to host an abundance of precious metals and minerals, it might be wiser for humanity to choose to visit Mercury before Mars, despite the former being further away than the red planet.

Like the Moon, Mercury may host reservoirs of ice water within the shadowy craters that dot it’s surface, as well as large quantities of helium-3 which could be exported back to Earth in order to help power fusion nuclear reactors.

While Mercury may not be as exciting or as beautiful as the red planet (or even our beloved home world), the secrets upon that sun baked world could be the key towards financing our expanse across the Sol System.

Image Credit: NASA

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