NASA’s courageous MErcury Surface, Space, ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft on Thursday died a glorious and beautiful death, crashing into the scorching planet after running out of fuel. That picture you see above is the last thing it saw before being decimated on impact. MESSENGER was 10 years old, and had been orbiting Mercury since 2011, completing 4,100 orbits around the tiny planet.
MESSENGER actually lived a pretty impressive life: during its time floating through our solar system, it traveled 8.73 billion miles, took 32.5 trips around the sun, and collected a whopping 10 terabytes of data, which has all been publicly released. But that’s not even MESSENGER’s most impressive stat. According to a chart provided by NASA, the noble spacecraft traveled at an astonishing 91,730 mph on average (relative to the Sun).
During its time orbiting Mercury, MESSENGER accomplished quite a bit, confirming the existence of ice on the planet, which is the closest to the Sun of the eight planets in our solar system. Some of its other important discoveries include the presence of a magnetic field on Mercury, and the discovery that the planet actually shrank quite a bit over the years. All said, MESSENGER provided scientists with nearly 300,000 images before meetings its maker earlier this week.
“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 existing data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
But more than just information and a lot of awesome pictures, MESSENGER also taught us about perseverance; it ran three years longer than NASA expected, before finally succumbing to the Sun’s gravitational pull on its orbit.
We bid MESSENGER farewell, and look toward the night sky in reverence and awe of all it has accomplished.
— NASA (@NASA) April 30, 2015