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MESSENGER Crashes; Cause to Celebrate

May 1st, 2015

Artist's depiction of MESSENGER and Mercury. Credit:

A space probe crashed into planet Mercury yesterday afternoon. And while you’d think this was a bad thing, NASA scientists actually celebrated it.


Because the probe, named MESSENGER, had done its job orbiting around Mercury for the past four years collecting all sorts of information about the planet.

As scientists knew it would, it finally ran out of fuel yesterday at around 3:30 pm. That meant there was nothing to keep it orbiting anymore and so Mercury’s gravity took over pulling MESSENGER down to crash onto the planet.

There were no astronauts on board, of course.

Why did we want to find out more about Mercury?

A while back we decided we didn’t know enough about our neighbor two planets down. We knew it was a rocky planet like Earth (and Venus and Mars for that matter), but are we the same in other ways? Or different?

So about ten years ago NASA launched MESSENGER. It took MESSENGER about 6 1/2 years to get Mercury.

For the past four years MESSENGER orbited Mercury taking over 250,000 photos, taking all sorts of measurements, figuring out why Mercury is so dense, what its rock is made of, and learning about its super extreme environment.

One the one had it can be around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on the other it seems like there’s actually  ice there ! It’s possible because its north and south poles never get any sunlight despite the fact it’s the closest planet to the sun. And we know this thanks to MESSENGER.

Scientists weren’t able to see MESSENGER crash into Mercury because it happened on the side of Mercury facing away from Earth.

Infographic courtesy: NASA

To learn more, click here .

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