New Delhi: After completing its four-year investigation of Mercury, US space agency Nasa’s Messenger satellite finally crashed on the surface of the planet, giving in to the pull of solar gravity as it ran out of fuel.

On Tuesday, the Nasa team successfully carried out the final orbit correction maneuvers for the spacecraft’s instruments to collect critical information on Mercury’s crust and ice-filled polar craters. The last photo it sent was of the floor of the 93 km-wide Jokai crater.

Announcing the crash on Thursday, NASA tweeted: Going out with a ‘bang!’ MESSENGER ended, slamming into Mercury’s surface at around 3:26 p.m. ET (1 am India Standard Time).

Did the crashing of the spacecraft leave any impact on Mercury’s surface?

When it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 mph, the spacecraft created a new crater on the planet’s surface. Mission control confirmed the end of operations just a few minutes later when no signal was detected by Nasa’s Deep Space Network (DSN) station in Goldstone, California.

Ahead of the impact, Messenger’s mission design team predicted that after striking the surface the spacecraft would create a crater estimated to be as wide as 50 feet.

When did it begin?

Messenger was launched on 3 August 2004, and began orbiting Mercury on 17 March 2011. Although it completed its primary science objectives by March 2012, the spacecraft’s mission was extended two times. Originally planned to orbit Mercury for one year, the mission over four years gathered datasets with its seven scientific instruments.

What were some of the mission’s important discoveries?

One of the most important discoveries made by the mission was to show that Mercury was rich in so-called volatiles, elements like chlorine, sulfur, potassium and sodium that easily evaporate at moderate temperatures. This was a surprising discovery considering the planet was formed while being heated to temperatures that should have boiled off the volatiles.

In the course of the mission, the Messenger mission also determined Mercury’s surface composition, revealed its geological history, discovered that its internal magnetic field is offset from the planet’s center, and verified its polar deposits are dominantly water ice.

Was a crater on Mercury named after John Lennon?

In 2013, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named an impact crater on the planet after the late John Lennon of the Beatles. Lennon joined 114 other craters named since NASA’s Messenger spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008.

“After a while, identifying craters by their latitude and longitude becomes laborious," David Blewett, a Messenger participating scientist, explained in a press release when the crater was named Lennon. “Assigning names to the craters makes it easier for scientists to communicate about them, share notes and observations," Blewett added.

Some of the luminaries after whom craters on the solar system’s smallest planet have been named are Truman Capote, the American author; Erich Maria Remarque, the German author; and James Sidney Ensor, the Belgian painter.

What is next in the exploration of deep space?

The next big event in space news is expected to take place on 14 July, when Nasa’s New Horizon’s mission will make its closest fly-by past Pluto.

The spacecraft has already sent the first coloured image of Pluto, detected surface features and begun first stages of its encounter with Pluto. Meanwhile, Europe and Japan are preparing for a joint mission to send a pair of satellites to Mercury as part of the BepiColombo mission. The scheduled launch is in 2017 and arrival in Mercury’s orbit in 2024.

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