NASA’s MESSENGER first flew by Mercury on January 14, 2008. It would conduct two more flybys before becoming the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the planet on March 18, 2011. Nearly four years later, MESSENGER’s mission is coming to an end.
The MESSENGER probe is expected to crash into Mercury’s surface tomorrow between 3:25 and 3:30 pm EDT. It will mark the end of an incredibly successful orbital mission around the first planet in our solar system.
With just over a day left, the MESSENGER spacecraft is still busy taking pictures. Earlier this week, NASA released a stunning false-color image mosaic of Mercury. The image below was created with the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS). The MASCS data was then overlaid on the monochrome mosaic from the Mercury Dual Imaging System according to NASA.
This instrument makes it possible for researchers to study “the spectral properties of both broad terrains and small, distinct features such as pyroclastic vents and fresh craters.”
Another image was taken on April 26 with the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS).
This image brings the total number of images taken and sent to Earth since entering Mercury orbit to 277,447. Not every image will make it back to Earth, though. NASA says the MESSENGER probe will take more than a thousand images with it when it smashes into Mercury.
“This is by design,” says NASA. “As it is better to collect more data than can be transmitted than end the mission having been able to possibly have done more!”
The image below was taken on April 28. See the smallest craters? That’s about the size of the crater the MESSENGER spacecraft will make when it impacts the surface tomorrow.