With the popularity of Mars Missions in the media and films, a trip to Mercury gets less limelight. The European Space Agency (ESA) in conjunction with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), have been busily building the BepiColombo. The mission will set off to Mercury in 2017 before anyone sets off to Mars and will arrive in late 2024.
The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and a carrier spacecraft, Mercury Transfer Module (MTM).
The spacecraft will travel to Mercury using efficient low thrust electric propulsion T6 Ion Thruster engines and gravity assists. The mission will be one of the most comprehensive explorations of Mercury and its environment ever undertaken. By studying Mercury, scientists will hope to provide greater insight into the formation of planets and how life arose in the Solar System. They will find out what the planet’s surface is comprised of and hope to confirm that the permanently shadowed craters of the polar regions do actually contain ice made from water or sulpher. A closer look at Mercury’s orbit will provide evidence in supporting Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
The closest visits to Mercury have been through two missions; Mariner 10 in 1974 and the Messenger Probe in 2004. The Mariner 10 mapped over 45% of the planets surface. During its final encounter with Mercury, the Mariner 10 swept over the surface at only 327 km above the surface. The Messenger Probe arrived at Mercury in 2011 and mapped almost the entire planet. When it ran out of propellant it plummeted to the planet on 30 April 2015.
For astronomers and enthusiasts, the difficult to see small planet will transit across the face of the sun on May 9th 2016 and on 11 November 2019.
The surface of Mercury is one of the most bombarded and cratered of all the Solar Systems planets. With no weather, ejected material from impacts by asteroids and comets, lie in visible streaks across the surface. Wrinkle Ridges scar the landscape, formed as the planet cooled and its core shrank. The planet Mercury has some of the hottest surfaces of all the planets in the Solar System. With only 38 percent of Earth’s gravity, you can jump 3 times as high as you can on earth.
The Romans believed that Mercury was a messenger to the Gods as it rapidly orbits the Sun. A year on Mercury is just 88 Earth days but a day on Mercury is 59 Earth days. Mercury is a planet of extremes. At any one time the surface facing the sun can reach 316 Celsius (°C) or 602 (°F) or more. At other locations, due to the planets rotation and orbit, there are surfaces that have never seen sunlight. In these pockets and at the further most pole from the sun, there is evidence of ice. Temperatures at these cool locations and at night, drop to minus 290 (°F) or minus 180 (°C).