An assignment to Merkurius, one of the least studied planets of our solar systems, is about to embark on its…
An assignment to Merkurius, one of the least studied planets of our solar systems, is about to embark on its seven-year trip.
Experts say that BepiColombo could not only shed light on the mysteries of our neighborhood’s smallest planet, but also offer a new insight into how the solar system was formed and even provide important clues about planets found in circulation with other stars ̵
1; so-called exoplanets – could be habitable.
“If we want to understand our earth and how life can [begin] on earth and perhaps on other planets, we must understand our solar system,” said Joe Zender, Assistant Project Researcher for BepiColombo. However, while much progress has been made on the matter, Zender says there is a snag. “There’s really a problem, mercury-mercury does not fit.”
Among the puzzles, Mercury is surprisingly high density and it is believed to have a core that at least partially melted.
And with some exoplanets that are very close to the stars, it is colder than ourselves, and we have become a pressing question about the first stone from our sun.
Due to the launch of Kourou, French Guiana, late Friday night local time, BepiColombo mission is a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency Jaxa.
While the mission has a large price tag, it can be argued that It’s something of a bargain because BepiColombo not only involves an orbiter, but two. When spacecraft has been delivered to circulate around Mercury by ESA-based Mercury Transfer Module, it is split to loose a protective sunscreen and release Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, built by Japanese and Mercury Planetary Orbiter, built by Europeans.
Although it is only 58 meters from the sun, Mercury has rarely been in the spotlight.
Only two previous missions have investigated the planet’s properties – Nasas Mariner 10 sond, launched in 1973, and the latest Messenger mission that launched in 2004. The last effort has its name from the late Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, a professor at Padua University , which was a key figure in the design of Mariner 10’s Mercury fly-bys.
Both previous assignments threw interesting results, including mercury having a magnetic field. It was a surprise given its rapid pace – it takes 59 days to spin its axis – and the idea that the core of the planet would have been cooled and stuck because of its small size, which excludes the presence of a magnetic field. In addition, the magnetic field of mercury is counteracted by 20% of the radius of the planet, which means that some functions in the south poles differ from those in the north.
Mercury has also been shown to have an exosphere – a very thin layer above the surface consisting of atoms and molecules that have come from the crust and the solar wind.
But before BepiColombo can test such phenomena, it must negotiate two major obstacles. “19659002” The heat is very hard, 450C on one side, but do not forget the other side is -180C, says Dr Suzanne Imber from Leicester University, a co-researcher at MIXS – one of Mercury Planetary Orbiters 11 instruments – and also worked with Messenger. “[Our spacecraft] goes apart for a couple of tens of minutes … our instruments must work around room temperature.”
The Japanese Orbiter spins 15 times a minute to avoid roasting, like a kebab on a grill, while the European Orbiter will be packed in a special multi-layer blanket and have a radiator for protection.
Getting to mercury is also a main scratch.
“Mercury is a small body close to the sun, so you can fly straight to mercury and get there in a few months, but you can not stop because the sun’s gravity sucks you in,” says Imber.
The answer is to arrive slowly through an elegant series of yards, with spacecraft swiveling by Earth, Venus and Merkurius before entering a orbiting around the nearest planet to the sun since 2025, since splitting and starting operations in early 2026.  “We go once through the earth, twice Venus and six times Mercury,” said Zender. “We are so close to the individual planets that we can use their gravity to change our direction to the next step.”
The artist’s impression of BepiColombo spacecraft shortly after the launch. Photography: ESA / ATG media lab
The team also plans to investigate the features of Venus including its internal structure, its chemical composition and its interaction with solar radiation.
Once in circulation around Mercury, the instruments will put on work. An X-ray scoop, MIXS, will help throw the light on the planet’s makeup.
“We will know in really amazing detail what the Mercury surface is made of,” Imber said, adding that the team can probe deeper down as well. “When you form a crater, what you find is that layers of material from below the surface are lifted by impact and land on the surface,” she said.
Prof Nicolas Thomas, co-project leader of the Bela instrument aboard Mercury Planetary Orbiter, said he wants to investigate the planet’s curious surface functions.
“A planet will shrink when it cools and Mercury has cooled a lot – We think the planet has cooled in such a way that its radius has been reduced by 8km over its history,” he said. “There are huge large rocks that we suspect have been created by this process where this shrinkage has occurred but some pieces have shrunk and other pieces have not shrunk quite a bit.”
It’s a phenomenon that Bela helps with sin.
“What we do is that we take a serious, very scary powerful laser and we burn it up to about 1000 km from the planet and then we wait for 6-10 milliseconds and we look at the reflected pulse,” Thomas said. By looking at the time it takes for the light to return, the team can calculate the contours on the surface below, essentially mapping of mercury.
While the BepiColombo mission is expected to last for two years when the orbits are in position Mercury, the team says it can go on for longer. Once upon a time, the orbits will crash into the planet’s surface.
Currently the team is focused on launch. “You’ve spent 15 years of your life in one of these experiments,” says Thomas. “And it’s sitting on top of a controlled explosion. So yes, it’s nervous.”