The colors of the solar system's innermost planet are enhanced in this tantalizing view, based on global image data from the Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft.
NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab / Carnegie Inst. Washington

Week in Geek: MESSENGER end of message edition


This past Thursday, NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft completed it mission at Mercury and impacted the surface around 3:30pm EDT. MESSENGER was originally launched in 2004, arriving at Mercury in 2011 after taking a winding path through the inner Solar System. The spacecraft achieved its primary science objectives in March of 2012, but its mission was subsequently extended twice as the spacecraft remained functional and scientists couldn’t help but want to know more about the closest rock to the Sun.

Mission data screen capture from MESSENGER web site
Mission data screen capture from MESSENGER web site
NASA / Carnegie Institution for Science / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
After more than 1500 days and 4000 orbits at Mercury, MESSENGER no longer had any fuel left to fight the Sun’s gravitational pull or its solar radiation pressure. Scientists kept taking data almost until the bitter end when the spacecraft slammed into the surface at over 8,500 mph, creating a new crater likely more than 50 feet across.

MESSENGER helped solve a lot of mysteries about Mercury’s surface features, internal structure, water content, and magnetosphere. Principal Investigator and Director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Sean Solomon, has this to say:

“Today we bid a fond farewell to one of the most resilient and accomplished spacecraft ever to have explored our neighboring planets. Our craft set a record for planetary flybys, spent more than four years in orbit about the planet closest to the Sun, and survived both punishing heat and extreme doses of radiation. Among its other achievements, MESSENGER determined Mercury’s surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet’s center, taught us about Mercury’s unusual internal structure, followed the chemical inventory of its exosphere with season and time of day, discovered novel aspects of its extraordinarily active magnetosphere, and verified that its polar deposits are dominantly water ice. A resourceful and committed team of engineers, mission operators, scientists, and managers can be extremely proud that the MESSENGER mission has surpassed all expectations and delivered a stunningly long list of discoveries that have changed our views not only of one of Earth’s sibling planets but of the entire inner solar system.”

Here’s some more smashing geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist