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A Lab-developed instrument to orbit Mercury

Narrator:        This is Science Today. An instrument developed for NASA by scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been taking the first-ever gamma ray data of the planet Mercury. Morgan Burks, a staff physicist at the lab, says their high resolution gamma ray spectrometer, called GeMini, is uniquely designed for this.

Burks:             Mercury, being the closest planet to the sun, is extremely hot. And we're trying to send a detector there that has to operate at minus 200 degrees Celsius.

Narrator:        Previously, no one thought this was possible, but GeMini is cryogenically-cooled using an innovative low-powered, miniature cooling mechanism and gold plated infared shielding.

Burks:             The reason we use a mirror-like, gold-plated surface is that gives us a 98 percent reflectance for infared heat and that means we can cool the detector with only a small heat load because we've rejected 98 percent of the heat that comes from Mercury planet or from the sun itself.

Narrator:        GeMini was launched on the Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft in 2004 and reached its destination about two years ago. Next year, it will orbit around Mercury for a year. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.