Collision of Messenger spacecraft with the planet brings an end to one of the space agency’s most productive missions.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft has crashed into the planet Mercury after running out of fuel, in an incident expected by the US space agency.
On Thursday, Messenger – which stands for ‘Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging’ – slipped out of orbit following a successful four-year tour of the rocky planet.
NASA said it was powerless to stop gravity from dragging the spacecraft towards the planet.
Its collision at a speed of more than 14,000kph added another small crater to Mercury’s already-pitted surface.
Mercury is only slightly bigger than our moon and is the closest planet to the Sun, but until the $450m spacecraft arrived in Mercury’s orbit in 2011, little was known about the planet.
Since then, the 485kg spacecraft has been using its seven scientific instruments to scan and feed back to Earth volumes of data.
“The material that Messenger has sent is enormous,” says Francisco Diego, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London.
“There are a lot of spectroscopic measurements, different gamma ray, x-ray spectrometers that characterised different depths of the soil of Mercury.”
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