Time To Kill The MESSENGER – NASA Probe Crashes Into Mercury Today

NASA estimates that the MESSENGER spacecraft will crash into Mercury this afternoon at 3:26 p.m. EDT near the 30-mile-wide crater Janacek on the opposite side of the planet from Earth. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
NASA estimates that the MESSENGER spacecraft will crash into Mercury this afternoon at 2:26 p.m. CDT near the 250-mile-wide crater Shakespeare on the opposite side of the planet from Earth. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury got a brand new crater today. At 2:26 p.m. this afternoon (CDT) NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft plowed into the planet and excavated a 52-foot-wide crater in a flash of light. The spacecraft was out of sight and communication during the impact, since it occurred on the far side of the planet as seen from Earth.

Over and out! This is the final image acquired and transmitted back to Earth by MESSENGER this afternoon, April 30. We're seeing a small area 0.6 miles (1 km) across on the  floor of the 93-kilometer-diameter crater Jokai. The spacecraft struck the planet just north of Shakespeare basin. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Over and out! This is the final image acquired and transmitted back to Earth by MESSENGER this afternoon, April 30. We’re seeing a small area 0.6 miles (1 km) across on the floor of the 93-kilometer-diameter crater Jokai. The spacecraft struck the planet just north of Shakespeare basin. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Roughly 30 minutes after its demise, when the probe didn’t “pick up” on its end, the MESSENGER team announced that the mission was officially over. Launched in 2004, the spacecraft made three flybys of Mercury before settling into orbit in March 2011. Since then it’s snapped more than 255,000 photos and gathered vast amounts of data about the composition of the planet’s crust, its core, magnetic field and atmosphere.10 terabytes are available to the public. You can start crunching it by paying a visit to the Gallery.

Face northwest starting about 45 minutes after sunset to look for Mercury tonight. You’ll find it  about two fists below Venus and only 1.5° from the Pleiades star cluster. Use binoculars to see the star cluster more easily. Source: Stellarium
Face northwest starting about 45 minutes after sunset to find Mercury tonight. It’s located about two fists to the lower right of Venus and just 1.5° below the Pleiades star cluster. Use binoculars to see the star cluster more easily. Source: Stellarium

By lucky coincidence, the planet Mercury is making a fine appearance in our evening sky the next two weeks. You can easily spot it starting 45 minutes after sunset about “two fists” below the bright planet Venus low in the northwestern sky.

If that’s not enough, tonight and tomorrow night, Mercury will be just 1.5° or three moon diameters from the Pleiades star cluster. Since you’ll be watching in twilight, be sure to bring binoculars to see the cluster more clearly.

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has constructed the first portrait of our solar system by combining 34 images taken by the spacecraft’s Wide Angle Camera. The mosaic, pieced together over a period of a few weeks, comprises all of the planets in the solar system. Click for a BIG version. Credit: NASA
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has constructed the first portrait of our solar system by combining 34 images taken by the spacecraft’s Wide Angle Camera. The mosaic, pieced together over a period of a few weeks, comprises all of the planets in the solar system. Click for a BIG version. Credit: NASA

Farewell MESSENGER, and thanks for the terabytes of memories!

18 Responses

    1. Edward M. Boll

      I have been out observing a couple nights the last week. One night, I tried with binoculars to find Lovejoy. I guess the Moon was a little too bright.

  1. caralex

    Bob, a question not related to the thread, but to your e-mail notifications of a new thread.

    I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but each time you post a new thread, I get an e-mail asking me to confirm that I want to receive notifications of a new thread, despite having already ticked the box as I’m writing comments on an existing thread. Why the necessity for such repetition, each time you post a new blog?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Carol,
      I wasn’t aware of this. Can you explain a bit more? So every blog requires you to tick a box in the Comments box?

      1. caralex

        Yes, Bob. There are two boxes below the comment box. The first says “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” and the second says “Notify me of new posts by email”.

        For the second, I get an e-mail stating the following:

        “Howdy.
        You recently signed up to follow one of my posts. This means once you confirm below, you will receive an email when new comments are posted.

        To activate, click confirm below. If you believe this is an error, ignore this message and nothing more will happen.

        Blog Name: Astro Bob
        Blog URL: http://astrobob.drue.areavoices.com

        In other words, every time you post a new blog, I get an email. I have to click an ‘activate’ button in that email, which opens a web page. I don’t have to do anything further, but it strikes me as odd that I have to do that for every new blog you write, rather than as a once-off.

          1. astrobob

            Thanks Carol. I guess I can’t answer your question directly. I would have to e-mail our admin team in North Dakota. I’ll see if they might have an answer.

          2. caralex

            OK, no problem, Bob. I just think it strange to have to sign up for notifications of EACH new blog post of yours, rather than just signing up once, at the beginning, for the Astrobob blog as a whole.

          3. astrobob

            Carol,
            Yes, that’s a pretty bad way to run a show. I’ll contact admin and see if they can help.

          4. If I may interject, the 1st box (Notify me of follow-up comments by email) is related to this entry while the 2nd box (Notify me of new posts by email.Notify me of new posts by email) is to notify you of any entries on AstroBob so it needs to be checked only once to get an email when Bob delights the astro buffs that we are (in my case, they are a few other terms used by others to qualify my nocturnal activities) with some new insight on our celestial photons emitters or reflectors.
            So I usually check off only the 1st box since I already received an email when there’s a new entry.
            So it’s off for a saturday hunting the dreaded bane of north america’s lawns & garden that can only be controlled with any success with back breaking digging: the dandelion! Good thing each one of them colorful yellow flower reminds me of the glass of golden Canadian beer at the end of the day that makes you feel like you save the world for yet another day. 😉

          5. astrobob

            Thanks Paul for the tip. I hope it helps Carol. Love your dandelion description. Over at my place, we let ’em grow thick and then mow them down when cutting the grass. After a second mowing a week or so later, most are gone for the season.

          6. caralex

            Thanks, BC. I’ll try that – i.e. not ticking the box for new posts and see what happens.

Comments are closed.