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