Space & Astronomy
Messenger spacecraft smashes in to Mercury
By T.K. Randall
May 1, 2015 · 21 comments
An artist's impression of Messenger in orbit around Mercury. Image Credit: NASA/JHU/APL
After more than a decade in space NASA's Messenger spacecraft has ended its mission with a bang.
Launched aboard a Delta II rocket in August 2004, Messenger flew by Mercury three times before eventually settling in to orbit in 2011.
The mission had been originally planned to last just one year but thanks to a series of flight-extending maneuvers the team at NASA were able to keep it going for an additional three. Once its fuel had run out they had even managed to extend the probe's life further still by venting helium gas in to the spacecraft's thrusters.
During its four-year mission Messenger returned over 270,000 images and 10 terabytes of scientific data about the closest planet to the sun. Its discoveries included finding water ice hidden inside craters at the planet's poles and the revelation that Mercury's magnetic field was strangely off-center.
Eventually though, with every last drop of available fuel utterly spent, the probe went out in a blaze of glory by smashing headlong in to the surface of the planet leaving a crater the size of a tennis court.
"A lot of people didn't give this spacecraft much of a chance of even getting to Mercury, let alone going into orbit and then gathering data for four years instead of the original scheduled one-year mission," said William McClintock, principal investigator of Messenger's spectrometer instrument.
"In the end, most of what we considered to be gospel about Mercury turned out to be a little different than we thought."
Source: BBC News
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