Today’s the day we say “au revoir” to NASA’s resilient MESSENGER space probe. Actually, it’d probably be more appropriate to say “geronimo.” The spacecraft, which has spent the last four years orbiting and studying Mercury, will crash into its planetary host at about 3:26 p.m. EDT.
It won’t be the first time NASA has let a space probe come to a fiery end, but today’s collision will be a time of celebration rather than sorrow. MESSENGER (for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) was really only supposed to be in orbit around Mercury for a year. But after figuring out new ways to conserve its fuel, researchers were able to extend the probe’s lifespan, allowing it to orbit the planet for three more years than expected.
During its time hanging out with the closest rock to the Sun, MESSENGER made some pretty amazing discoveries. Check out some of the probe’s greatest finds:
Craters Filled With Water Ice
A Liquid Iron Core
A Long Volcanic Past