BepiColombo orbiters take off for Mercury tonight

It’s just the third mission to the planet, and the craft won’t arrive until 2025.

If you've ever wondered what's happening over on Mercury, you'll have an
answer soon. Well, soon-ish. BepiColombo, a joint effort between the
space agencies of Europe and Japan, will send off a spacecraft Friday
night at about 9:45 PM ET with the destination set for the closest rock
to the sun. Don't expect to hear much from the little adventurer for a
while, though -- it won't reach Mercury's orbit until late 2025.

The BepiColombo mission, named after Italian mathematician and engineer
Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, consists of two separate spacecraft. There's
the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, which will map the planet and the
environment that surrounds it, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter,
which will focus on measuring the relationship between the planet's
magnetic field and charged particles emitted from the sun, just a short
36 million miles away. The information gathered should provide a better
understanding of the evolution of our solar system and offer insight
into the habitability of exoplanets with a similar makeup of the dark
and mysterious Mercury.

Once BepiColombo launches—as it is scheduled to do tonight—it'll spend
seven years making the roundabout trip to Mercury, which will include a
flyby of Earth in 2020, two passes of Venus, and six different flybys of
Mercury before it reaches the planet's orbit in 2025. Once they reach
their destination, the crafts will have the sun beating down on them.
Both have been coated with temperature-resistant layers that should help
stave off temperatures of up to 660 degrees Fahrenheit, per the
European Space Agency. Assuming they make it safe and sound, the crafts
will be the first to visit Mercury since NASA crashed a probe into it in

The two crafts of the BepiColombo mission will be sent off into space
this evening when they are launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket. They'll
take off from the French Guiana. Liftoff is scheduled to take place at
9:45 PM Eastern time. The ESA will provide live streaming coverage of
the launch starting at 9:15 PM ET (the player is also embedded above) if
you're interested in the pre-game show.

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