Hannah Kavanaugh


Originally launched on August 3, 2004, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft, or MESSENGER, ended its work with a bang on April 30th, when it crash-landed onto Mercury at 3:26 pm EDT. Though a planned crash, it was nonetheless “somber” in the control room, as it was confirmed that no more communication was being received from MESSENGER (

Though its work began on August 3, 2004, MESSENGER did not reach Mercury and begin to orbit until March 17, 2011. At that point it began taking photos, measurements, and relaying information back to Earth. The plan for MESSENGER was to learn more about Mercury and its magnetic anomalies, as well as the planets history and makeup. Science gained a lot of information from MESSENGER’s journey and the mission has been deemed a great success.

One of the major things that MESSENGER provided us with is a complete map of Mercury.  MESSENGER was the first spacecraft to settle into orbit around the smallest planet, Mariner 10 did fly by in the 70’s but did not offer enough information to complete our view of Mercury. Mercury is a strange planet. Scientists and Astronomers knew that before MESSENGER was launched. The new information provided however, offers proof and examples of the planet’s abnormalities.

Though Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, it is one of the coldest planets in our solar system. Well, part of the time. Because it lacks an atmosphere, the planet cannot retain heat, and therefore the temperatures drop drastically on the side of the planet that faces away from the sun.

Another interesting this about Mercury that we learned from the MESSENGER mission is that Mercury is home to anywhere from 100 billion to 1 trillion tons of water ice. Though it is nowhere close to being a place to call home, finding water on any planetary body is an interesting development.

Although the mission is complete, and MESSENGER will no longer be sending information to Earth, there is still a long way to go. Scientists and Astronomers are currently examining all of the information received from MESSENGER and making new discoveries daily. Stay tuned to see what else they discover about the closest planet to the sun.

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