June 16, 2024

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Mercury: Probably the smallest Earth-sized planet in the solar system

Mercury: Probably the smallest Earth-sized planet in the solar system

As part of its indirect path, BepiColombo has already made three flybys around Mercury as part of a strategy to reduce its speed. The spacecraft will Its final approach to the planet is in 2025, when it will split into two orbiters One measures the magnetic field, and the other studies the surface and internal structure. He says Marie's research on geochemical analogues may be relevant here, as they could be used as a benchmark for some of these measurements.

“Laboratory measurements of mercury-like isotopes help us better interpret the results to the measurements we obtained from infrared and thermal infrared spectrometers as well as to some type of X-ray spectrometer,” explains Johannes Benkoff, project scientist at BepiColombo.

Over the next year, orbiters will make more precise measurements of Mercury's mineral compositions, topography and internal structure. By comparing this data with those obtained from previous missions, scientists may be able to determine whether the planet is still geologically “alive.” There are cavities on the surface that appear to have been formed by the evaporation of material from Mercury's interior, but it is not clear whether this process is still active.

Together, these measurements may finally allow us to get to the bottom of Mercury's mysterious origins — and thus, tell us more about our place in the universe. “The question of why Mercury is so dense and has such a large core is very important for understanding the formation and history of our solar system,” Benkov says. “And the spacecraft has a very comprehensive set of payloads and instruments that we hope will really advance our scientific knowledge.”

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Much has already changed in how we view the first planet from the Sun. “Fifteen years ago, Mercury was considered a boring planet,” Benkov says. “But I expect to find more surprises.”

For Mary, Mercury is just the beginning. “In Lanzarote, we found lava similar to the mantle found on Mars. To look for traces of Venus, we are checking Sicily, Hawaii, Indonesia and Kamchatka in Russia.”

With full BepiColombo Scientific operation is scheduled to begin in 2026We may soon have a better understanding of how much these rocks found on Earth can tell us about our other neighbors in the solar system.

* Alicia Franco is an author and journalist who focuses on history, culture, society, storytelling, and its impact on people.

** David Robson is an award-winning science writer and author. His next book is Laws of Communication: The Transformative Science of Being Socialwill be published by Canongate (UK) and Pegasus Books (USA and Canada) in June 2024. @d_a_robson On Twitter, and @devidarobson on Instagram and topics.

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