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A joint European-Japanese mission to the tiniest planet, Mercury, blasted off from French Guiana on its long journey tonight (Oct. 19, Oct. 20 GMT).
That mission, BepiColombo, will spend seven years cruising toward its target, where it will separate into two spacecraft and orbit Mercury for a year — or two, if the mission is extended. The measurements taken there could not only solve lingering mysteries about the innermost planet, but also about the formation of our solar system and neighboring ones. The whole mission cost the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) almost $2 billion, according to press reports.
Day - ESA - Director - General - Jan
"It's a really great day," ESA Director General Jan Woerner said after the launch. "Let us go together to Mercury. Go, Bepi, go!"
An Ariane 5 rocket launches the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission to Mercury from Europe's Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana on Oct. 19, 2018.
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Now, scientists have to wait seven long years before the two spacecraft that make up BepiColombo reach Mercury and separate to begin observations of the tiny, strange planet in December 2025.
But that's not to say they'll be twiddling their thumbs: BepiColombo has a few tasks to tackle, even as it makes the long trek to Mercury. As it travels, one instrument on board will be making the most precise measurements to date of Mercury's and Earth's orbits around the sun. Scientists will be able to use these measurements to pursue...
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