Meeting Mercury with BepiColombo

October 10, 2021

You might know that Mercury is currently in retrograde, but what else do you know about the first planet from the Sun?

For centuries, Mercury has been something of a mystery: It's so close to the Sun that it's difficult to observe from Earth, and the overwhelming gravity of our parent star makes it even harder to get a spacecraft into orbit.

We've learned much from NASA's MESSENGER mission, but BepiColombo is set to teach us even more.

The spacecraft had its first flyby of the inner planet earlier this month, giving us a taste of its many secrets.

For instance, did you know Mercury has a magnetic field? At just one per cent of the strength of Earth's, it's not particularly influential, but it does cause intense magnetic tornadoes that rain down on the surface.

And despite being the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury is not the hottest place in the Solar System—that title belongs to Venus.

In fact, polar craters on Mercury never see sunlight, and there is evidence of pockets of water ice hidden in their depths!

Sources and further reading:

In Depth | Mercury at NASA

BepiColombo Overview at ESA

Featured image: Mercury in False Colour | Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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