Mercury's magnetic pull

May 19, 1995

A mission to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, will be discussed by an international group of scientists next week at Imperial College, London.

The planet has puzzled scientists since 1974, when the Mariner 10 spacecraft flew past Mercury and detected a magnetic field which ought not to exist according to current theories of the solar system.

The mission, which is likely to form part of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000+ programme, would have to be sufficiently robust to cope with temperatures that vary from 700C to -100C depending on which side is facing the sun.

The scientists will work out the most burning questions about Mercury and, therefore which would be the best instruments to put on the spacecraft. They will also consider the technological problems of getting a mission to the planet.

Andre Balogh, professor of physics at Imperial College, said that his priority was to solve the mystery of Mercury's magnetic field. If a planet has a magnetic field this implies that it has a liquid metal core. But Mercury is so small that current theory implies that its huge iron core must have solidified early on in its formation.

Another priority is to map Mercury's surface. "Its surface is like the moon's but the pock-marking is different," said Professor Balogh, who led a team that explored the science of the mission when it was first under consideration by the ESA.

Studying Mercury's craters would give some idea of the size of the projectiles that crashed into it early in its life, and therefore some insight into the early history of the solar system.

The mission will compete with other proposals to form part of Horizon 2000+. Imperial is hoping to play a key part because of its experience at measuring magnetic fields.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Chair in Law UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL (MAIN OFFICE)
User Acceptance Testing Technician CAMBRIDGE ASSESSMENT
Director of Teaching and Learning UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

Globalisation

Times Higher Education World University Rankings data reveal the top 200 most outward-looking institutions

Common cactus finch (Geospiza scandens)

Tiffany Taylor on a thought-provoking view of the forces acting to ensure survival

Stressed businessman answering four telephones

Some surveys show faculty putting in at least 60 hours a week, but research casts doubt on whether this is a productive routine

Student asking question during class

University of Reading research finds link between undergraduate satisfaction and ethnicity of lecturers

Level of quality compass

Authors argue this means universities should spend less on senior academics and give promising younger scholars more of a chance