Science & Tech

Europe, Japan sends spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury

The News

  • The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a joint mission to Mercury.

Key Highlights

  • ESA and JAXA launched the spacecraft onboard Ariane 5 carrying 2 probes to Mercury.
  • The spacecraft was named Bepi-Colombo after an Italian scientist.
  • The two probes on board the spacecraft, called ‘Bepi’ and ‘Mio’ will orbit the Mercury in its inner and outer orbit respectively.

Significance

  • Since the probes will orbit both inner and outer obit of Mercury, they are designed to study both surface properties and magnetic field of Mercury.
  • The probe will unravel details about the massive iron core of Mercury which is little understood.
  • This will also help understand the evolution of Mercury and thus throw more light on the origin of our solar system.

About Mercury

  • Mercury is small, airless, and extensively cratered.
  • It has a perplexing and unexpected magnetic field.
  • It rotates in a manner unique in the solar system i.e. it makes three complete rotations on its axis for every two complete orbits around the Sun.
  • Mercury has an iron-rich core what takes up 42% of the planet’s volume compared to 17% by earth’s core.
  • Besides Mercury is the most iron-rich planet in the solar system.

Earlier efforts to probe Mercury

  • The first spacecraft to provide detailed knowledge about Mercury was Mariner 10 which was launched in 1973.
  • However Mariner 10 could send details only of one side of Mercury, leaving the other side unexplored at close range.
  • NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging), was launched in 2004.
  • Messenger reached the orbit around Mercury in 2011 and probed the planet till 2015 when the mission ended.

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