MESSENGER's Last Mercury Photo Before Crashing is Crazy Close-Up
As it zoomed danger-close to small planet's surface at a mind-boggling 8,700 miles per hour, MESSENGER managed to beam one last look at the Mercurian landscape back to Earth.
Today marked the end of NASA's historic MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission when the spacecraft slammed into the planet's surface after running out of fuel. But as it zoomed danger-close to small planet's surface at a mind-boggling 8,700 miles per hour, MESSENGER managed to beam one last look at the Mercurian landscape back to Earth.
PHOTOS: Mysterious Mercury and Planetary Pareidolia
Captured by the mission's Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) of the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), this view spans only about 1 mile wide, with a resolution of 2.1 meters per pixel. In the view appears to be a relatively flat terrain dotted with small craters and smooth lumps.
Shortly after this photo was transmitted to NASA's Deep Space Network (DNS) - a collaboration of global radio antennae keeping tabs on the space agency's various robotic missions around the solar system - signal was lost and the probe is assumed to have completed its kamikaze plunge into a ridge to the northeast of a vast crater called "Shakespeare."
More Discovery News coverage of the end of the MESSENGER mission to Mercury:
Forever Farewell: NASA's Mercury Probe is now an Impact Crater This is Where NASA's MESSENGER Mercury Mission Will Die
NASA's MESSENGER probe is the first spacecraft to orbit the solar system's innermost planet and, since orbital insertion in 2011, the satellite has returned over 150,000 photographs of the enigmatic alien surface. However, many of the features the robotic probe has seen resemble very un-alien artifacts. But there isn't really snowmen, the Cookie Monster or a pirate graffiti artist on Mercury, they are all optical illusions stemming from a psychological quirk known as "pareidolia" -- the same phenomenon that makes us see the Virgin Mary in burnt toast and faces on Mars.
Shown here is a recently released photograph of Mercury's Caloris basin, featuring none other than Star Wars' Han Solo frozen in carbonite... but then again it's more likely a raised feature just tricking our brains.
In 2011, MESSENGER got into t' festive mood t' celebrate "Talk Like a Pirate" Day (Sept. 19). Well, it's that time o' t' year again me buckos, so we thought it was a very good time t' show ye t' pirate's Jolly Roger that was eyeballed inside a Mercurian crater. Look in t' starboard portal t' see t' outline o' a skull and crossbones. You see it now, right? Yarrrr!
This strange arrangement of craters give the uncanny resemblance of a certain cartoon mouse.
During a Mercury flyby in 2008, MESSENGER snapped some high-resolution images of the floor of the Caloris basin to find a spider. It was in fact an impact crater with some impressive radial troughs breaking up the surface, but the mission's science team still refer to the feature as "The Spider."
Another fortuitous arrangement of impact craters appear to have etched out The Cookie Monster's googly eyes.
Is this the X-Files logo? Or is it a classic case of "X marks the spot"? It's neither actually, this cratered "X" was formed by secondary crater chains created by ejecta from two primary impacts outside of the field of view of the photo.
One would think that Mercury was a little too close to the sun for snow, let alone snowmen! Although ice has been revealed inside the planets coldest craters, this snowman-like shape is, once again, just craters tricking the brain.