NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging spacecraft crashed into the planet Mercury’s surface on April 30 as planned, marking the completion of its four-year mission orbiting the planet.
NASA said Friday the impact, estimated to have created a crater up to 50 feet wide on the planet’s surface, was confirmed by mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory after the agency’s Deep Space Network station in Goldstone, California, detected a loss in signal.
“We monitored Messengerr’s beacon signal for about 20 additional minutes,” said Andy Calloway, mission operations manager at APL.
“It was strange to think during that time Messenger had already impacted, but we could not confirm it immediately due to the vast distance across space between Mercury and Earth.”
Just before the spacecraft ran out of fuel, the APL team carried out orbit correction maneuvers that enabled Messenger’s equipment to collect data about Mercury’s polar craters and magnetic anomalies on the planet’s crust.
The APL-built Messenger launched in 2004 and traveled for more than six years before entering Mercury’s orbit in 2011.
Discoveries of the spacecraft’s mission include information on the planet’s geological history, polar deposits, internal magnetic field and surface composition.
John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said scientists at the agency will continue to evaluate the data available in the archives and figure out the planet’s mysteries.