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Contact: Nicole Casal Moore

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Infographics by Jessica Knedgen, Michigan Engineering

The MESSENGER spacecraft left Earth in 2004 carrying among its instruments a sensor built at Michigan Engineering's Space Physics Research Lab. Over the years, some 75 U-M researchers, including faculty members, engineers and students, were involved in either making the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer, also known as FIPS, or analyzing the data it sent back. MESSENGER, which flew by Venus and Mercury before entering orbit around the closest planet to the sun, ended its mission April 30, 2015, by crashing into Mercury, as NASA intended.

We asked Jim Raines, a U-M research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and MESSENGER team member, to help quantify the crash. He worked with others on the MESSENGER team to put it in perspective.  

  1. Meteors with the same mass as MESSENGER (513 kg) slam into Mercury about every month or two, and typically with 10 times the speed and 100 times the energy. The planet doesn’t have a thick atmosphere that would slow down objects headed for the surface.

  2. The crater the craft left near Mercury’s north pole is predicted to be about 50 feet wide. That’s the width of an NBA basketball court.



  3. The 1,131-pound spacecraft hit with the energy of about a ton of TNT, or the force of a car traveling at about 2,000 mph.



  4. At almost 9,000 mph, the craft traveled three times faster than a speeding bullet and nearly twelve times the speed of sound. 



  5. On MESSENGER’s last orbit, it passed just 900 to 1,800 feet over the planet’s surface. We have buildings that tall on Earth. 



  6. Nearly 55 percent of MESSENGER’s weight at launch was fuel.

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From Michigan to Mercury | MconneX | MichEpedia

4/16/2015

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The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft that carries a sensor built at the University of Michigan is about to crash into the planet closest to the sun, just as NASA intended.

The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft that carries a sensor built at the University of Michigan is about to crash into the planet closest to the sun, just as NASA intended.

About Michigan Engineering: The University of Michigan College of Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the country. Eight academic departments are ranked in the nation's top 10 -- some twice for different programs. Its research budget is one of the largest of any public university. Its faculty and students are making a difference at the frontiers of fields as diverse as nanotechnology, sustainability, healthcare, national security and robotics. They are involved in spacecraft missions across the solar system, and have developed partnerships with automotive industry leaders to transform transportation. Its entrepreneurial culture encourages faculty and students alike to move their innovations beyond the laboratory and into the real world to benefit society. Its alumni base of more than 75,000 spans the globe.