It seems that MESSENGER has successfully completed its gravity assist at (perhaps 'using' would be a better term) Venus. The mission homepage sums up the event nicely:

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft swung by Venus for the second time early this evening [5th June] for a gravity assist that shrank the radius of its orbit around the Sun, pulling it closer to Mercury. At nearly 15,000 miles per hour, this change in MESSENGER’s velocity is the largest of the mission


According to APL’s Eric Finnegan, MESSENGER systems engineer, the spacecraft’s approach geometry is similar to that for the first Mercury flyby, allowing — for the first time in flight — the craft’s seven instruments to be turned on and operated collectively in science-observing mode, just as they will be for Mercury. “Gathering approximately six gigabits of data, the spacecraft will take more than 630 images, as well as make other scientific observations over the next few days,” Finnegan said.

In the news article at the Planetary Society, here, we learn that, like New Horizons at Jupiter, MESSENGER is currently something of a fish out of water. Just as New Horizons was designed to operate on the inner fringe of the Kuiper Belt, where sunlight is a precious commodity, so MESSENGER is intended to orbit Mercury, bathed in intense radiation. Venus may be a little on the dark side as far as its cameras are concerned, so it remains to be seen how interesting any images MESSENGER returns from Venus will be, especially given that, with its dense, sepia clouds, Venus isn't exactly the most photogenic world in the first place.

Still, I'll be sure to let you know if any pretty pictures make their appearance...


tinker said...

"Venus isn't exactly the most photogenic world in the first place."

Given its namesake, that seems rather ironic, doesn't it? But then, maybe it just likes to be mysterious - who knows what beauty might lie beneath those "dense, sepia clouds" of mystery!

Pacian said...

Well, the Soviets for one, and NASA for another. Venus has a truly hellish surface (crushing atmospheric pressure, hot enough to melt tin), obscured by bland clouds. Not a pleasant world by anyone's standards.

Bobby said...

How in the world do they get it to break free of one orbit to go to another orbit? . . . with exactly the right aim . . . All those kids who got straight 'A's in math, I guess.