Proper now, it appears like everybody and their moon-dog are speaking about expeditions to Mars. However for the European Area Company and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Company, the main focus is on the primary rock from the solar, Mercury.

Their BepiColombo mission is about to spend the subsequent seven years making its technique to Mercury to study extra about how the planet shaped, what it is made from and what it tells us in regards to the beginning of our photo voltaic system.

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The mission is known as for Italian mathematician Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, the primary particular person to elucidate Mercury’s curious rotation sample. It is solely the third mission to set its sights on Mercury, after NASA’s Mariner 10 mission, which launched in 1973, and NASA’s Messenger mission, which launched in 2004. 

On this week’s version of Watch This Area, we take the large questions that BepiColombo seeks to reply about Mercury.

What’s Mercury made from?

We all know in regards to the subsurface lake on Mars, and we all know what Jupiter appears like, however we all know little or no about Mercury’s composition. BepiColombo goes to research whether or not it has a stable or liquid core, and whether or not it is filled with iron as we suspect. 

A take a look at the BepiColombo mission schedule.

Loren Roberts/The Planetary Society

Wrinkles and craters…

BepiColombo is about to map Mercury’s floor and its many craters, together with the dent left by the crash-landing of Messenger. It is also going to search for proof of geological exercise. From Messenger’s pictures of wrinkles on the floor of Mercury, we all know the planet is shrinking, so what does this inform us about tectonic exercise on the planet?

The place did it come from?

For a planet that is (comparatively) near us and inside (relative) spitting distance of the solar, we do not know a terrific deal about how Mercury shaped. And what we’ve noticed would not fairly add up.

Based on David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences on the UK Open College, “a lot about it appears fallacious for a planet that near the solar.” Rothery means that Mercury may have originated from “additional out” within the photo voltaic system and that it may have collided with a “proto-Earth or proto-Venus,” robbing it of its unique rock. As soon as we all know extra about Mercury’s early years, we are able to higher perceive the situations that shaped the planets throughout our photo voltaic system.

How does it survive that near the solar?

Because the closest planet to the solar (at a distance of 36 million miles, or about one-third so far as the Earth), Mercury faces excessive situations. To start out, it feels the drive of the solar’s photo voltaic wind, and BepiColombo goes to research how that photo voltaic wind interacts with Mercury’s magnetosphere. 

The planet additionally has no actual ambiance, so there’s little or no to cease impacts with the planet’s floor (see: craters). Temperatures are excessive. Based on NASA, its sun-facing aspect will get temperatures of 801 levels Fahrenheit (427 levels Celsius), and the aspect dealing with away from the solar drops to -279 levels Fahrenheit (-173 Celsius).

Is there ice on Mercury?

Based on the ESA, we all know there’s water on Mercury. However BepiColombo is on a hunt to search out out whether or not the “completely shadowed craters” on Mercury’s chilly aspect are hiding ice. Is it pure water? And if there are different supplies blended in with the water, does that inform us something in regards to the origin of the ice?

What’s subsequent?

After launching in Oct. 20, BepiColombo has an nearly decade-long mission forward of it. Pop these key dates in your diary: 

  • April 13, 2020 — Earth flyby
  • Oct. 16, 2020 — First of two Venus flybys 
  • Oct. 2, 2021 — First of six Mercury flybys
  • Dec. 5, 2025 — Arrival at Mercury
  • March 14, 2026 — Mercury Planetary Orbiter in last orbit
  • Might 1, 2027 — Finish of nominal mission

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