- BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury.
- On the April 10th, BepiColombo will be visible to amateur and professional astronomers during its first and only Earth flyby.
- The best place to spot it is the Southern Hemisphere, but observers in southern locations of the Northern Hemisphere might also catch a parting view of the spacecraft.
BepiColombo a joint project between the European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aimed to exploring the Mercury planet will have its one and only flyby on April 10, 2020. The spacecraft is going to Mercury on a research mission. BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury. Launched on October 20, 2018, it is on a seven year journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System.
On April 10th, BepiColombo will be visible to amateur and professional astronomers during its first and only Earth flyby, as the spacecraft makes its way to Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System. The best place to spot it is the Southern Hemisphere, but observers in southern locations of the Northern Hemisphere might also catch a parting view of the spacecraft. This unique flight is due to the coronavirus. The flight, which will see the mission adjust its trajectory by harnessing Earth’s gravitational pull as it swings past the planet, will be performed amid restrictions ESA has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic as noted on the ESA news release.
According to the ESA, the next two flybys will see BepiColombo proceed towards Venus in October 2020 and August 2021, respectively, followed by six flybys of Mercury itself to further adjust the trajectory. Eventually, the mission’s two science orbiters ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mio (the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter of JAXA) will separate from the Mercury Transfer Module in late 2025 and start their scientific operations at Mercury in early 2026.
In order to accelerate to the desired speed and reach the planned orbit, the spacecraft must perform a complex series of maneuvers. At the moment, the ship is approaching Earth again and should pass near it on April 10. A day earlier, on April 9, the operation of one of the BepiColombo instruments will be tested on the moon.
This is a radiometric and thermal infrared spectrometer (MERTIS) designed to determine the composition of the planet closest to the Sun. During the flyby of the Earth, MERTIS will study the moon. This is not just a prank by scientists. First, the data will not be affected by the atmosphere of our planet. The device will be aimed at the moon for four hours from a distance of 680,000 to 740,000 kilometers, which is almost twice the distance from Earth to the moon (on average, it is 384,403 km).
The measurements will be useful for further study of Mercury. This is not only equipment calibration, but also training. In addition, we have much more data about the moon than about mercury, but the two objects have some similarities, which will make the results of studying the moon and mercury with the same instrument more valuable. The moon and mercury are similar in size.