Sunday, August 7, 2022

Looking closely at Mercury

On the morning of Thursday 23 June, a BepiColombo . The probe, made by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the Japanese agency (JAXA), has made a new pass for Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. The probe’s necessary maneuvers to reach the planet, which will last until 2025, have made it possible to capture some new images of Mercury, which could be useful for new analyzes of its surface properties and composition.

BepiColombo passed just 200 kilometers from the planet, but when the spacecraft began to pass over the night side of Mercury, the first images were taken about five minutes later when the spacecraft was 800 kilometers away.

The spacecraft continued to take pictures for 40 minutes as it was moving away from the planet. This made it possible to photograph Mercury with the rays of the pastoral sun, thanks to which the roughness of the Earth became more noticeable.

Among other things, BepiColombo photographed the Caloris basin, the crater formed after the collision of another celestial body with a diameter of about 1,400 kilometers. The basin appears today as a great plain and is the largest impact found on Mercury, near Montes Caloris, two thousand meters above sea level.

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In the meantime, the probe continues its journey, which will take it closer and closer to Mercury, so that it can be analyzed more closely and quietly during the actual scientific mission, which will begin in the first months of 2026.

The name “BepiColombo” is derived from Giuseppe Colombo, better known as Bepi, who was an Italian mathematician and astronomer who devoted many of his studies and explorations to Mercury in the 20th century. It was Columbus, for example, who proposed a system of interplanetary paths for NASA to track, allowing the Mariner 10 probe to make close passes, taking advantage of Venus’s orbital thrust.

The BepiColombo consists of two probes. The Mercury Planetary Probe (MPO) will maintain an altitude of 480 to 1,500 kilometers above the surface of Mercury. It has many tools to conduct surveys and experiments. Among them are several designers in Italy: ISA, to study the internal structure of the planet, to discover the gravitational field with greater accuracy, Serena to study the interaction between Mercury and the Sun, geologists of Symbio-SYS Planets, planet formation and soil to study history.

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The second probe, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), will act as a sort of upper spinner, spinning 15 times per minute between 590 and 11,640 kilometers from Mercury’s surface. It will have the task of collecting data on Mercury’s magnetosphere, the magnetic field that the planet produces despite its small size. From observations from previous investigations, we know that the planet is capable of diverting a portion of the solar wind, reducing processes that would quickly consume its surface (erosion).

Mercury is a rocky planet like Earth, but its proximity to the Sun certainly makes it inhospitable: the temperature at its surface varies between 430 °C and -180 °C, depending on periods and regions. It has constantly shaded areas at its poles, where glaciers are located, but on average their surface is fried by the sun’s rays. The presence of craters and irregularities tells us that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur on Mercury, like our country. The diameter of Mercury is only 4,879 kilometers, which is less than half the radius of our planet.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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