NASA’s MESSENGER, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury and the one that found ice and water on the planet, is about to end its journey on April 30. The spacecraft that has been encircling Mercury since March 2011 is decreasing its fuel supply. As planned, it will have a dramatic death come end of April.
MESSENGER will crash onto Mercury’s surface at 19:25 UTC. The speed will be 8,750 miles per hour, and it will land on the side not facing the sun. Till now, MESSENGER has covered 4,065 orbits, with just 40 more orbits to go.
The NASA spacecraft was launched in 2004. It took 6 years for it to start circling the orbit of Mercury. The spacecraft found water in 2012.
Its key finding was ice in Mercury, almost unexpected, as the planet is the closest to sun, its temperature reaching 800F during the daytime. However, according to NASA, the finding was “compelling support for the hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant frozen water and other volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters.”
Jim Green, from the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, has pointed out ten significant findings of the mission. Apart from the existence of water in the polar region, the spacecraft also provided valuable information related to volcanic deposits, rich minerals on the planet and many more.
According to NASA scientists, the mission will not end after the crash landing. There will be more studies on the probe’s findings. However, it will not be a mission where samples are to be collected. Scientists are hopeful that in a future mission, it will also be possible.
If things go properly, one more mission in Mercury will be launched in 2017, which will be a joint venture between the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency. The $2 billion robotic mission will reach Mercury in January 2024.