CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Mercury-orbiting spacecraft, Messenger, is going out with a bang this week, adding a hefty crater to the little planet closest to the sun.
The first spacecraft to circle Mercury, Messenger is expected to slip out of orbit and slam into Mercury on Thursday. It’s out of fuel and is now at the mercy of gravity.
The spacecraft will be travelling 14,080 km/h when it hits the rocky planet, fast enough to carve out a crater 16 metres wide.
This will end a successful mission for Messenger. It was launched in 2004 and entered orbit around Mercury four years ago.
NASA released a combination of images Tuesday showing readings from the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) instrument aboard Messenger. It’s the latest in a series of unique views the mission has offered of the planet, which is 77 million kilometres from Earth.
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