As Judgment Day approaches for NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, spectacular new pictures have appeared of the planet it is set to smash into on Thursday: Mercury. The unbelievable close-up shots show our solar system’s tiniest planet as never before. The mind-blowing look is explained by NASA covering the pictures from the spacecraft’s Visual and Infrared Spectrometer (Virs) onto a black and white montage in order to emphasize features such as craters and volcanic vents. After more than a decade since its take-off, and four years orbiting Mercury, Messenger will go where no other spacecraft has gone before on April 30th. After running out of fuel for its thrusters, the 500kg spacecraft is set to fall into the planet’s surface at some 8,750 miles per hour, fashioning its own considerable crater and destroying the probe itself. But the arrival looks set to be an anti-climactic one.
|Images of the planet Mercury (Image Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Carnegie Institution of Washington)|
Messenger will crash behind Mercury, out of vision of Earth. Actually it will take hours for NASA to approve the probe’s death, only being able to do so hours later when the spacecraft be unsuccessful to appear from behind the planet. Researchers have greeted the probe’s mission as a success, affirming Messenger has answered lots of queries about the planet’s make-up. Some of the major discoveries include:
Finding frozen water so near to the Sun was a main surprise, though there had been clues in earlier radar observations.
2. What lies above
Something was covering the ice, a mysterious dark coating. More study will be carried out but NASA is putting its money on it being carbon-rich compounds, alike to substances found in certain meteorites and in comets.
3. It used to be bigger
To be precise, over the past four and a half billion years Mercury has contracted by over 7 kilometres in radius.
A lot of data have yet to be examined. But for now, it’s a touching time for those whose jobs have revolved around the probe.
Mercury mission head Sean Solomon said'I have worked on the mission for 19 years. It's like losing a member of the family. Even pre-knowledge doesn't prepare you completely for the loss,'