Forever Farewell: NASA's Mercury Probe Is Now an Impact Crater
At 3:26 p.m. ET today (Thursday), NASA's MESSENGER mission to the innermost planet of the solar system came to a dramatic end, smashing into Mercury's surface at a speed of over 8,700 miles per hour.
As the spacecraft made its final orbit of the planet, mission scientists predicted that the probe, which has been orbiting Mercury since 2011, would collide with a ridge at the northeastern rim of an ancient impact crater called "Shakespeare." At time of writing, mission NASA hadn't confirmed whether this was the exact point of contact with the surface.
"Well I guess it is time to say goodbye to all my friends, family, support team. I will be making my final impact very soon," the mission's Twitter feed said minutes before its expected loss of signal.
NASA's Deep Space Network, a global network of radio antennae that is constantly communicating with the space agency's space robots, confirmed loss of signal around the time of MESSENGER's predicted moment of impact via the animated NASA Eyes DSN Now website. MESSENGER was communicating with the Goldstone Observatory in the Mojave Desert, Calif., at time of impact.
The NASA mission has been orbiting Mercury since 2011 after being launched from Earth in 2004. In the 4 year science mission, MESSENGER has not only revealed stunning revelations about Mercury, but about the origin of the solar system itself. The huge archive of data collected by the first ever mission to orbit Mercury will be making countless discoveries for years to come.
"For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in an earlier NASA press release. "While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission. It's the beginning of a longer journey to analyze the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury."
The implication of MESSENGER's final resting place wasn't lost on many fans of the mission, where passages from William Shakespeare's various works made their way across social media.
My personal favorite:
"Forever farewell... If we do meet again we'll smile indeed. If not, 'tis true this parting was well made. – JC A5s1 #MESSENGER #Shakespeare" - tweet by planetary scientist Mary Kerrigan.
Goodbye little space probe.