The largest-ever exploration of the planet Mercury, which is the closest planet to the Sun, is about to begin, and despite that fact, its surface can be colder than some regions of Earth. This is because ice has been discovered there.
Two probes will explore the first planet from the Sun as part of the mission. One was prepared by scientists from Europe and the other from Japan. The first, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, weighing 1150 kilograms, will study the geophysical properties of the Mercurian globe.
As many as 11 measuring instruments have been installed on its deck. Among them is the Polish MERTIS spectrometer (MErcury Radiometer and Thermal infrared Imaging Spectrometer), developed by engineers from the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The spacecraft is unique in that it will be the first in the planet’s history to observe in the infrared spectrum, providing valuable information about the mineral composition of rocks and the thermal properties of Mercury’s surface. This will help us learn more about the planet’s geological past and the different stages of its evolution.
ESA and JAXA plan that the probes of the BepiColombo mission will enter Mercury’s orbit in December 2025. Until then, they will remain attached to each other and circle the Sun in that configuration. For now, the first images of the planet have been sent to Earth.
The mission is named after Italian mathematician Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, who first developed the concept of gravity assist, which was used in the Mariner-10 probe mission to Mercury and will also facilitate the flight of the BepiColombo probe.
The planet of merchants and thieves is very hot, with temperatures as high as 420 degrees Celsius and as low as 350 degrees Celsius. However, astronomers have detected ice on its surface. It is located inside the crater Prokofiev. Mercury is a rocky and harsh planet with almost no atmosphere. Its surface is strewn with thousands of craters that resemble the surface of the Moon.
Interestingly, Mercury has a beautiful tail. It looks in the night sky like a flying comet. The planet is about 58 million kilometers from the Sun, while Earth is about 149 million kilometers away. So the difference is quite big. Due to its proximity to the Sun the planet’s atmosphere is slowly but steadily being blown away from the Sun into the outer space of the Solar System.
The braid is orange-yellow in color and stretches for up to 3.5 million kilometers, 10 times as far as the distance between the Earth and the Moon. This is because Mercury has a very weak magnetic field, which is only 1 percent of Earth’s. Mercury’s atmosphere is made up of a number of compounds that are found in its atmosphere.
Compounds in the atmosphere, or basically the exosphere, such as oxygen, sodium, hydrogen, helium and potassium, are attacked and pushed into space by solar wind particles. The exosphere and the planet’s trailing pigtail glow due to the interaction of the solar wind with sodium. In images of the night sky, Mercury looks like a comet.