A pair of probes known as BepiColombo is scheduled to launch from Kourou, French Guiana, on Oct. 20 to explore the planet closest to our sun: Mercury. The European-Japanese mission builds off of the NASA MESSENGER mission and the team aims to gain a better understanding of the hot planet.
Jonathan Lunine is a professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science. Lunine worked for decades on the Saturn Cassini program, was a co-investigator on the Juno space probe orbiting Jupiter, and has testified before Congress on human exploration of Mars. He says Mercury has long puzzled astronomers.
“Mercury is the mystery planet of the inner solar system — why is it so rich in iron? Is its core partly molten metal? Is it an oddball or our local example of a class of metal-rich planets around many stars? BepiColombo is the next step after the NASA MESSENGER mission to explore Mercury inside and out, and understand how such iron-rich planets form in the cosmos."