PARIS: Is Mercury’s core liquid or solid, and why — on the smallest planet in our solar system — is it so big? What can the planet closest to the Sun tell us about how our solar system came into being? An unmanned European-Japanese space mission, dubbed BepiColombo, blasted off early on Saturday morning from French Guiana, to probe these and other mysteries. “BepiColombo is coming like a white knight with better and more precise data,” said Alain Doressoundiram, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory.
“Mercury stands apart and we don’t know why.” First, however, the suite of instruments on board the Ariane 5 rocket will have to travel seven years and nine million kilometres to reach their destination. In a statement after the launch, ArianeGroup said the satellite had successfully escaped Earth’s gravity field and was beginning its long journey where it will reach speeds of up to 40,000 kilometres an hour. According to Pierre Bousquet, an engineer at France’s National Centre for Space Research and head of the French team contributing to the mission, Mercury is “abnormally small,” leading to speculation that it survived a massive collision in its youth. — AFP