Crash stops stray pioneer

Science Illustrated - - SPACE/ SOLAR SYSTEM -

In 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER probe is the first to en­ter into an or­bit around the in­ner­most and small­est planet of the So­lar Sys­tem, Mer­cury.

Over a pe­riod of four years, the probe re­veals that the small rocky planet has a large, partly liq­uid core and that cool­ing makes the planet slowly shrink. Based on data from the probe, sci­en­tists con­clude that Mer­cury – as the only So­lar Sys­tem planet apart from Earth – is still ge­o­log­i­cally ac­tive.

In April 2015, af­ter 11 years in space, MESSENGER runs out of power and dies in a dra­matic fi­nale. In or­der that MESSENGER does not end up as a stray craft with empty fuel tanks, NASA chooses to crash the probe against Mer­cury’s pock­marked sur­face.

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