BepiColombo to Fly By Mercury Tonight

On Friday evening, October 1st, BepiColombo will lastly attain Mercury – and shoot proper previous it.

BepiColombo, a European-Japanese collaboration, will in the end whizz by Mercury 5 instances earlier than lastly getting into orbit on its sixth encounter greater than 4 years from now. Friday’s encounter, at 23:34 UTC, will convey the spacecraft inside 200 kilometers (120 miles) of the planet, giving just a few of its devices their first probability to examine the innermost planet. More importantly, the shut flyby will bend the trail of BepiColombo’s orbit, establishing future shut passes that may sequentially match the spacecraft’s orbit with Mercury’s.

Diagram of BepiColombo's journey to Mercury
An define of BepiColombo’s journey to Mercy.

BepiColombo is a stack of three spacecraft: a European-built Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), a Japanese-built Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter named “Mio,” and a European-built Mercury Transfer Module that propels them. The switch module has enormous solar arrays to energy a solar-electric propulsion system, which is extremely environment friendly however offers very low thrust. Once in Mercury orbit, the stack will separate; the switch module will finish its mission, and the 2 orbiters will go on to separate science orbits.

While in its cruise section, BepiColombo has many limitations on using its science devices. It can’t use any of them in the course of the lengthy durations of solar electrical propulsion. It has to maintain the spacecraft’s sunshield pointed towards the Sun, limiting the way it can rotate to level its devices. Many of the MPO’s devices are literally dealing with Mio to shield them from injury in the course of the lengthy cruise, to allow them to’t see space in any respect proper now.

But all of the fields-and-particles devices on Mio shall be working, finding out Mercury’s magnetosphere for the primary time for the reason that MESSENGER mission resulted in 2015. And the switch module carries three cameras that monitor the situation of the solar panels; they’ll additionally glimpse Mercury because the spacecraft passes by.

Incoming, BepiColombo will see the planet’s nightside, whereas outbound, it can see a gibbous Mercury. Two of the three switch module cameras will take images for up to 4 hours after closest strategy. The closest picture shall be taken from an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers. The European Space Agency plans to launch the primary photographs Saturday morning at 7:00 UTC.

image of grey mercury surface with locations noted and a line showing the track of the flyby
Ground monitor of flyby 1 on Mercury.
Emily Lakdawalla; Map: NASA / JHUAPL / Carnegie Institution of Washington; floor monitor location: ESA

The two cameras shall be pointing in several instructions: MCAM-2 towards Mercury’s northern hemisphere and MCAM-3 towards the south. Surface options needs to be seen within the photographs, and you need to use the Quickmap tool from the MESSENGER mission to establish craters. Once BepiColombo is much sufficient away for all the planet to match within the subject of view, the dramatic splash of Murasaki crater needs to be on the heart of the disk, and one other of Mercury’s rayed craters, Debussy, shall be on the decrease proper aspect.

grey surface of mercury on a black background with locations on the surface noted
BepiColombo’s perspective on Mercury because it recedes from closest strategy. Use the MESSENGER mission FastMap software to zoom in and establish craters!
NASA / JHUAPL / Carnegie Institution of Washington
a close up of the map of mercury's surface, grey, with locations noted in white
BepiColombo ought to see the dramatic splash of Murasaki crater, which needs to be on the heart of the disk, and one other of Mercury’s rayed craters, Debussy, shall be on the decrease proper aspect.
NASA / JHUAPL / Carnegie Institution of Washington

Just as on MESSENGER, mission science will start with the info gathered throughout these flybys, sparse although it could be.  MESSENGER was an vital pathfinder for BepiColombo, and a lot of the questions that BepiColombo seeks to reply have been raised throughout evaluation of MESSENGER’s observations.

Why does Mercury have a magnetic subject that’s shifted dramatically north of the planet’s geographic heart? What supplies are trapped within the completely shadowed areas of Mercury’s north polar craters? What are Mercury’s hollows? How does it have a lot carbon in its crust? Why is its core so massive? This flyby – and the 4 that come after it – will present us a few of what BepiColombo can do, and tantalize us with the potential of future Mercury science.

Diagram showing science goals of BepiColombo mission
BepiColombo will comply with up on discoveries made — and questions increase — by NASA’s MESSENGER mission.


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