Since the conclusion of NASA’s Messenger mission in 2015, scientists have been working hard to analyze its data and plan for the next stage of exploration on Mercury, and a new study has concluded that it may be feasible to put a robot lander on the planet now with modern technology.
As the Inquisitr has reported, the BepoColombo will be launching a spacecraft to Mercury between October 5 and November 29 to study the planet’s atmosphere, magnetosphere, and geology, but this spacecraft will not be hitting Mercury until 2025.
According to Space, planetary scientist Nancy Chabot of the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has called this mission “unprecedented,” noting that the two orbiters of BepoColombo are going to supply scientists with a treasure trove of information about Mercury.
“We all know that we’re going to get a lot of amazing data and make a lot of discoveries about the planet, but we also know that mission has been in development for decades.”
Yet Chabot believes that humans can do much more when it comes to Mercury and has recently published a new study that has suggested putting landers on the planet. While a similar study was also put out back in 2010, scientists were unable to utilize its ideas as it would have been too challenging to have seriously put a lander on Mercury back then. However, with cutting edge technology today, Chabot believes that it may truly be possible to get a robot to the planet.
The main difficulty with the idea of sending a lander to Mercury is that NASA plans for its future missions by using decadal surveys, which the National Academies of Sciences only work on every decade. To help NASA choose what planets and regions of space they should be studying, groups will soon begin to get together to decide where NASA should be exploring next between the years 2023 and 2032. This is why scientists believe this new study is so very critical and that NASA should be paying close attention to their idea of putting a robot on Mercury.
North Carolina State University planetary geologist Paul Byrne explained that it is imperative that scientists begin work immediately if they are to get a lander on Mercury in the 2030s.
“We need to get working on this now for us to see a Mercury lander in the 2030s. Our job will be complete if we can convince people to do one of these studies.”
If you find yourself wondering why Mercury should be the next planet that NASA seeks to explore, Case Western Reserve University planetary scientist Steven Hauck, who was also one of the lead authors of the new study, noted that as Mercury is such an enigmatic and extreme planet, this planet is perhaps one of the most worthwhile ones to study at this time.
“Mercury is sort of a planet of extremes — you’ve got the hot and cold temperatures, you’ve got the fact that it spins on its axis three times for every two times it goes around the sun. There are places on the planet where you can see double sunsets and double sunrises. For decades, people have argued that Mercury is just as — if not more — scientifically compelling than Mars, but Mars is much easier to get to.”
While it would certainly be extremely challenging to get a lander on Mercury, the scientists involved with the recently published study believe this is a challenge that should be taken up immediately if humans are to learn more about this strange planet.