NASA MESSENGER Prepares For Impact On Mercury - InformationWeek

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4/29/2015
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Nathan Eddy
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NASA MESSENGER Prepares For Impact On Mercury

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is beaming back some final, incredible photos as it prepares to smash into the planet's surface -- a hard landing for the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.
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(All Images: NASA)

(All Images: NASA)

The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), mission is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and represents the agency's first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun.

Launched on Aug. 3, 2004, MESSENGER entered orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011 to begin a year-long study of its target planet, and is now on its second extended mission.

That mission will end when it collides into Mercury at a speed of more than 8,750 miles per hour sometime on Thursday, April 30, as the spacecraft runs out of propellant and the force of solar gravity causes it to impact the surface of the planet.

The Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) instrument aboard the spacecraft was designed to study both the exosphere and surface of the planet Mercury. In the mission's more than four years of orbital operations, Messenger acquired more than 250,000 images and other extensive data sets.

In a briefing at NASA headquarters earlier this month, the mission's scientists and engineers ticked off the top science findings and technological innovations from the mission, such as having provided compelling support for the hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water ice and other frozen volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters.

[Check out 25 years of the Hubble telescope.]

"MESSENGER had to survive heating from the Sun, heating from the dayside of Mercury, and the harsh radiation environment in the inner heliosphere, and the clearest demonstration that our innovative engineers were up to the task has been the spacecraft's longevity in one of the toughest neighborhoods in our Solar System," MESSENGER principal investigator Sean Solomon, director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a statement. "Moreover, all of the instruments that we selected nearly two decades ago have proven their worth and have yielded an amazing series of discoveries about the innermost planet."

In honor of MESSENGER's spectacular successes and the mission's equally spectacular denouement, we've assembled a selection of images highlighting the fascinating findings beamed back to planet earth.

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
5/1/2015 | 7:39:41 AM
Re: Send off
No kidding. Leaving something in orbit to record the evnetual crash would have been awesome to see. Then again I can just play Kerbal Space Program for the closest equivalent. I better get back to that... 
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
4/30/2015 | 11:08:52 PM
Re: wow
I was thinking the exact same thing. Wow indeed.
Anyway, I love the pic of the sun. I visited the Nasa Stereo website, and it has pretty amazing images.

The last image of earth from so many miles is pretty unbelievable, isn't it?.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
4/30/2015 | 9:00:09 PM
wow
In one word wow!

Hats off to NASA engineers that the MESSENGER is still working in harshest conditions after 11 years of operation.
grasmussen330
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grasmussen330,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/30/2015 | 11:10:41 AM
Slides of NASA MESSENGER Satellite's Pending Impact on Mercury
I really appreciate and look forward to the articles posted by NASA on their inventions and explorations.  I do, however, have a couple of suggestions that could make interpretations of images more understandable to those of us who do not have the privelege of viewing the images on a regular basis with all of the technology readily available.  It would be helpful if the images could have an axis superimposed on planet surfaces to help locate things like the North Pole.  We can't tell (well at least I can't tell) what orientation the satellite had with respect to the planet when each of the photos were taken.  Also, directing viewing to the "East" of "West" also is not helpful since those are relevant terms.  Since we are looking at a two dimensional image, using "Left" and "RIght" seems more appropriate.  Thank you for allowing some imput from your readers.

Jerry R. Coral Springs, FL

 
natee3287127
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natee3287127,
User Rank: Strategist
4/30/2015 | 10:28:25 AM
Re: Send off
Yeah it's too bad they didn't bulid in a selfie-stick so we could all watch the sendoff down here :P
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
4/30/2015 | 7:35:32 AM
Send off
Quiet a send off. I imagine the explosion of matter from the planet's surface will be quite impressive, even if the fuel tanks are depleted. God speed to a pioneering piece of equipment that over a decade later still has us talking. 
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