As the ancient Greeks learned, bad things happen when you fly too close to the sun.
NASA’s Mercury-orbiting spacecraft Messenger recently ran out of fuel, and the whole thing is expected to collide with the planet sometime today. As the first spacecraft to circle Mercury, part of Messenger’s mission was to snap as many photos of its trip as possible. In fact, NASA will be releasing its images right up to the moment when the spacecraft crashes.
Messenger was originally launched into space from Florida in 2004, but didn’t actually get into Mercury’s orbit until 2011. Since then, it’s made over 4,000 laps of the planet and snapped 35 million images. Additionally, it’s taught NASA scientists much about the mysterious world.
Messenger has discovered volcanic deposits, polar caps of frozen water and an abundance of volatile elements like potassium and sulfur on its surface. It’s also sent back images like this:
So what will become of Messenger? It’ll be travelling 14,081 kilometres per hour when it slams into the ground, so it’ll probably put a good dent in the planet before being completely obliterated. The next spacecraft to aim for Mercury won’t launch until 2017, and it won’t actually arrive there until about 2024.
For now then, we guess you’re stuck with the video above.