Messenger’s Mercury Trip Ends With a Bang, and Silence

mpicpp writes with an expected followup: Nasa’s Messenger mission to Mercury has reached its explosive conclusion, after 10 years in space and four in orbit. Now fully out of fuel, the spacecraft smashed into a region near Mercury’s north pole, out of sight from Earth, at about 20:00 GMT on Thursday. Mission scientists confirmed the impact minutes later, when the craft’s next possible communication pass was silent. Messenger reached Mercury in 2011 and far exceeded its primary mission plan of one year in orbit. That mission ended with an inevitable collision: Messenger slammed into our Solar System’s hottest planet at 8,750mph (14,000km/h) — 12 times quicker than the speed of sound. The impact will have completely obliterated this history-making craft. And it only happened because Mercury has no thick atmosphere to burn up incoming objects — the same reason its surface is so pock-marked by impact craters. According to calculations, the 513kg, three-metre craft will have blasted a brand new crater the size of a tennis court. But that lasting monument is far too small to be visible from Earth.

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