MESSENGER’s nearly 11-year mission has come to an end. Yesterday, at 3:26 pm EDT, the spacecraft slammed into the surface of Mercury at around 8,750 mph. It marked the end of a mission that exceeded scientists’ wildest expectations.
“Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft to ever explore our neighboring planets,” said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s principal investigator.
Here is the last image MESSENGER sent back to Earth.
It was taken with the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) as part of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS). The image’s resolution is 2.1 meters/pixel. The entire image shows an area about 1 kilometer across.
MESSENGER’s final resting place is believed to be just north of the Shakespeare basin (pictured below). Scientists estimate the crater created by MESSENGER could be as wide as 52 feet.
The MESSENGER mission was a huge success. The spacecraft was expected to orbit Mercury for just one year. Instead, it circled the closest planet to the sun for more than four years.
NASA’s John Grunsfeld celebrated MESSENGER in a statement yesterday afternoon.
“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission,” said Grunsfeld. “The MESSENGER mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission–analyzing the exciting data already in the archives and unravelling the mysteries of Mercury.”
NASA released an infographic last year highlighted the many milestones of the MESSENGER mission. Most of those numbers are a bit higher now, but it gives you a glimpse of how long MESSENGER has been in space.
Earlier this week, NASA released a video montage showing the many fantastic images of Mercury taken by MESSENGER.