On April 30th, this region of Mercury’s surface will have a new crater! Traveling at 3.91 kilometers per second (over 8,700 miles per hour), the MESSENGER spacecraft will collide with Mercury’s surface, creating a crater estimated to be 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter.
The large, 400-kilometer-diameter (250-mile-diameter), impact basin “Shakespeare” occupies the bottom left quarter of this image, acquired by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) and Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) instruments aboard the spacecraft. The image is coded by topography. The tallest regions are colored red and are roughly 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) higher than low-lying areas such as the floors of impact craters, colored blue. The large crater on the left side of the image is “Janacek,” with a diameter of 48 kilometers (30 miles). The Shakespeare impact basin is filled with smooth plains material, likely due to extensive lava flooding in the past. As of 24 hours before the impact, the current best estimates predict that the spacecraft will strike a ridge slightly to the northeast of Shakespeare. View this image to see more details of the predicted impact site and time.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System’s innermost planet. In the mission’s more than four years of orbital operations, MESSENGER has acquired over 250,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER’s highly successful orbital mission is about to come to an end, as the spacecraft runs out of propellant and the force of solar gravity causes it to impact the surface of Mercury on April 30, 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington