This week will be the last for the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the planet Mercury.
The image above comes just before the final orbital correction maneuver of the mission and is one of the highest resolution images yet returned from Mercury at 1.1 meters/pixel. The entire image is only 560 meters / 1837 feet across.
That correction came as scheduled on 24 April 2015. The maneuver consumed no fuel by the sounds, there was none left, what was expelled was helium used to pressurize the fuel. Mission managers had things perfectly figured, the boost was just enough to extend the flight until the scheduled date of 30 April.
Now, gravity will have its way and gravity always wins in the end. On 30 April the spececraft will impact the surface of Mercury – hard. At impact MESSENGER will be traveling 3.91 km/sec / 8,750 mph and it is expected to create a crater 16 meters / 52 feet in diameter.
There has been no word on how the naming of this new crater will be handled. We won’t get to see the crater until possibly 2024 when the ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo mission arrives after being launched in 2017.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington