NASA To Send Messenger Probe Into A Fatal Dive Towards Mercury

After four years of helping us learn about planet we knew almost nothing about, NASA's Messenger spacecraft will make a one way trip to the surface of Mercury.

Launched in 2004, Messenger spent six years travelling through the solar system before finally reaching its destination. Once in orbit around the mysterious planet, it started what would become a four year journey of discovery.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington said: “For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system. While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission. It’s the beginning of a longer journey to analyze the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury.”

Messenger was able to give scientists a tantalising glimpse into Mercury's composition including the 2012 discovery that Mercury has a predominantly ice-thick north pole the size of Washington state.

This discovery led to a further revelation that there were large quantities of dark organic materials found within the ice.

Messenger's time however, is coming to an end.

"Following this last maneuver, we will finally declare the spacecraft out of propellant, as this maneuver will deplete nearly all of our remaining helium gas,” said Daniel O’Shaughnessy, mission systems engineer at APL. “At that point, the spacecraft will no longer be capable of fighting the downward push of the sun's gravity.”

On 30 April, Messenger will impact with Mercury's surface at more than 8,750 miles per hour. Sadly because of the expected impact point scientists won't be able to monitor in real time where the spacecraft hits.