Message Received: NASA's Messenger Probe Crashes Into Mercury After Four Years In Orbit

Having served admirably as an interplanetary diplomat between Earth and Mercury, NASA's Messenger probe went out in a blaze of glory yesterday, crashing into the planet it had spent years documenting...

Composite shots of Mercury, courtesy the Messenger.  Colors added for awesomeness.
(Image courtesy

The Messenger orbiter had spent ten years total on its mission, with four of those years being spent in the orbit of Mercury.  Its name is an acronym for "MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging", a fine amalgamation of the many services the adept orbiter provided.

We got the message, loud and clear.  Thanks, Messenger!
(Image courtesy

According to, at 15:26 EST yesterday, the Messenger crashed into the surface of Mercury. The 10-foot-wide spacecraft traveled at 8,750 m.p.h to meet its demise, and dug a crater approximately 52 feet wide for its grave (a process NASA calls "lithobraking.") As the crash occurred on the side of Mercury facing away from the Earth, NASA officials could not determine the exact location or impact size of the final moments of Messenger.

Roughly the terrain of the area where Messenger went down in its blaze of glory.
(Image courtesy

Launched on August 3rd, 2004, the Messenger cost $450 million and was the first man-made satellite to explore the planet. It arrived on March 17th, 2011, and subsequently brought back a wealth of information back on the solar system's smallest planet.  In addition to meticulously mapping the planet, Messenger discovered that the shadowy poles of Mercury were covered in water ice, and also that the planet has an oddly offset magnetic field.

Five new craters were identified and named thanks to Messenger's latest imagery grabs.
(Image courtesy

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, was quoted by CNN regarding the mission's success, saying, "For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system."

The final image captured before Messenger's crash yesterday.
(Image courtesy

Over a quarter of a million images were captured by the orbiter, as well as a wealth of information from its seven onboard instruments.  The next slated mission to Mercury will be a joint European-Japanese endeavor, the Bepi-Columbo orbiter, launching in 2017 and reaching Mercury's orbit by 2024.  If you want to observe Mercury for yourself, it will be visible in the night sky around dusk until near the end of May.  And we all shine on...

A composite "family portrait" of the planets of the solar system,
comprised of  34 images captured by Messenger.
(Image courtesy

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