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BepiColombo probes seek answers to Mercury’s iron mystery

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Jeff Tyson

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

Professor of the Physical Sciences

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.

Lunine says:

“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."

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