Jul 27, 2009 | 17
The U.S. is sitting on a slippery stockpile of toxic material that has nothing to do with the nuclear power industry: thousands of tons of mercury. The question remains now of where to store it.
The heavy metal, found in everything from old thermometers to power plant emissions, has been linked to neurological damage, birth defects and other health concerns.
Although dedicated mercury mining stopped in the U.S. in 1990, the storage reserves have continued to grow as demand for manufacturing and other uses have dropped off. By 1994, sales from the U.S. mercury stockpile were suspended. A 2003 report [pdf] by state and federal environmental agencies found that “there is not a national plan or a consensus on who should be storing excess elemental mercury.”
Oct 29, 2008
In 2011 NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft will insert itself into Mercury’s orbit, ending a nearly seven-year journey spanning billions of miles. The real work begins, though, once MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) settles in as Mercury’s lone satellite and provides the first prolonged look at the dense little planet. Until that time, planetary scientists have to settle for tantalizing but fleeting glimpses of Mercury from MESSENGER’s three flybys, the second of which took place on October 6.
Some of the results of that up-close peek were announced at a NASA news conference today, providing a taste of what revelations will come once MESSENGER takes up residence in Mercury’s orbit. (The flybys are gravity-assist procedures to bring MESSENGER’s trajectory into line for the future orbit insertion; any scientific data collected during them are icing on the cake.) Relatively little is known about the planet, because its proximity to the sun largely precludes ground-based study; before MESSENGER’s first pass, less than half the planet had even been imaged.
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