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'Messenger' Crashes into Mercury
May 05, 2015

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft has crashed into the surface of Mercury, ending its historic 11-year mission that provided valuable data and thousands of images of the planet. Messenger was unable to resist the perturbations to its orbit by the sun’s gravitational pull and slammed into Mercury’s surface at around 14,000 kmph, creating a crater up to 52 feet wide. Because Messenger’s initial discoveries raised important new questions and the payload remained healthy, the mission was extended twice. With its fuel reserves finally exhausted, Messenger had no other options but to crash.

♦ Launched on August 3, 2004, Messenger began orbiting Mercury on March 18, 2011. It was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, the smallest planet of the solar system and closest to the Sun.

♦ The spacecraft completed its primary science objectives by March 2012.

The spacecraft has done exemplary work. Among its many discoveries: that even though Mercury sits very close to the sun, it holds reserves of water ice and organic matter in permanently shadowed regions at its poles; that a surprising amount of light, volatile elements still remain on the planet; and that the planet has dropped a dress size or two, shrinking nearly 9 miles in diameter over the last 4 billion years or so.

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