Friday, October 19, 2018

Launching Tonight: Bepi-Colombo Planetary Probe

Tonight at the Kourou spaceport in Guyane (French South America) the European Space Agency in association with JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, launched an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Bepi-Colombo probe, the first interplanetary vehicle devoted uniquely to the planet Mercury.  Passing vehicles have previously flown by the world nearest to the sun, but this one is specially designed for the grueling environment of Mercury, which varies from over 400F to nearly minus 300F on the dark side.  Long thought to be  tidally locked, Mercury does rotate, with boiling metal pools turning into ice fields. This makes the possibility of a habitable "twilight zone" between the two extremes virtually impossible.  However, I remember as a child reading a comic book where space travelers had colonized this narrow ring around the planet and dealt with its unbelievable extremes.  It was one of my first impressions of science fiction and remains fixed in my imagination.  Let's hope for more astounding revelations from this adventurous mission.