NASA’s spacecraft Messenger has crashed into the surface of Mercury, a planet it orbited for four years. During its eleven year voyage through space, the craft set a number of space records.
The unmanned spacecraft, Messenger, just three meters long, finally ran out of fuel and crashed into the surface of the planet Mercury making a crater 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter.
The probe, whose name stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, issued a final farewell on Twitter shortly before its demise at 3:26 pm (1926 UTC) on Thursday: “Well, I guess it’s time to say goodbye to all my friends, family, support team. I will be making my final impact very soon.”
The agency confirmed in a statement: “A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end Thursday when it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) and created a new crater on the planet’s surface.”
Messenger was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2004 and set a number of space records. It discovered that Mercury had a lot of frozen water and other volatile materials as well as patches of ice in its craters. It is the planet nearest to the Sun.
During its 4,100 orbits of Mercury, Messenger detected potassium, sulfur and other volatiles on the planet’s surface that scientists thought should have evaporated due to the planet’s high temperature. Mercury’s average surface temperature is 167 degrees Celsius (332 degrees Fahrenheit) with daytime highs of 427 degrees Celsius (801 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Europe and Japan are working together on a follow-up mission to Mercury, called BepiColombo. It is due to launch in 2017.
jm/bk (Reuters, AP)