by Kathy Hedges

SOCORRO – Think it’s hot in Socorro? Try Mercury!

Dr. Louise Prockter, a scientist on the NASA team that is sending a probe to the planet Mercury, speaks on "The MESSENGER Mission to Mercury (It's not the humidity, it's the heat!)" The talk, which is free and open to the public, takes place on Saturday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m., in Workman 101 on the New Mexico Tech campus. The talk is sponsored by the Summer Science Program.

The MESSENGER spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on Aug. 3, 2004. After swinging around Earth and Venus for several gravity boosts, it will fly past Mercury three times in 2008 and 2009, finally settling into orbit around the inner planet in March 2011. MESSENGER will map nearly the entire planet in color, image most of the areas unseen by Mariner 10, and measure the composition of the surface, atmosphere and magnetosphere. It will be the first new data from Mercury in more than 30 years.

MESSENGER stands for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging. More information is available at http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/.

Prockter, who earned her Ph.D. at Brown University, is a planetary geologist with Johns Hopkins University. She has studied the surfaces of Ganymede and Europa (moons of Jupiter) and is currently Deputy Instrument Scientist for Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard the MESSENGER spacecraft. Her other duties include mission concept development and ongoing research into icy satellites and asteroid surface structural features.

The Summer Science Program (SSP) is a six-week-long residential enrichment program in which gifted high school students from around the world study and work to complete a challenging, hands-on astronomical research project involving asteroids.

SSP (www.summerscience.org) has proven to be one of the most prestigious research programs for secondary school students since its founding in Ojai, California in 1959. SSP opened a second campus in Socorro in 2003, with the support of New Mexico Tech, Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, and others, attracting scores of teenage scientists from Massachusetts to Hawaii.