Skimming Mercury in the search for ice

June 24, 2022

Does Mercury have ice on its surface?

It seems impossible—this close to the Sun, temperatures can reach a fiery 430°C.

But without an atmosphere to keep that heat in, the night side of Mercury gets blisteringly cold—as low as -180°C.

It's that difference that allows ice to hide deep inside craters that never see sunlight. At least, that's what we think.

The hunt for ice is just one science goal of the BepiColombo mission, jointly overseen by the European and Japanese space agencies.

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution for Science

Bepi just conducted its second of six flybys of Mercury, as it aims to slow down enough to enter orbit.

With the immense gravity of the Sun right on its doorstep, that process is slow and steady.

BepiColombo will also investigate the strange presence of volatile materials on the planet, and look into how the planet formed.

Currently theories suggest Mercury may have formed near the orbit of Mars before it was pulled closer to the Sun.

Bepi will begin full science operations in early 2026.

Sources and further reading:

BepiColombo Mission Overview at ESA

Top Five Mercury mysteries that BepiColombo will solve at ESA

Featured Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab/NASA/JPL

Music Credit: Karl Casey @ White Bat Audio

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