MESSENGER mission ends with crash landing on Mercury

illustration of Messenger over Mercury

The MESSENGER spacecraft, illustrated here with actual images of Mercury’s cratered landscape captured by the probe in an early flyby of the planet in 2008, ended its four-year mission April 30. 

NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft crashed into the surface of Mercury on April 30, bringing its four-year exploration of the innermost planet to a meteoric finale. The planned rendezvous with the surface of the sun-scorched world came after the probe exhausted the last of its fuel and succumbed to gravity’s pull.

Launched in 2004, MESSENGER is the second spacecraft to visit Mercury and the first to orbit the planet, which allowed the probe to make the first complete maps of the surface. MESSENGER also spied ice lurking in permanently shadowed craters and confirmed that volcanoes lit up the planet in its more vibrant youth. 

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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