A joint project between European and Japanese space agencies, BepiColombo, was successfully launched earlier today. The €3 billion ($3.5 billion) project will take seven years to enter in an orbit around the closest planet to the sun.
Its main goals are to try to unravel the mysteries of Mercury. For example, about 60% of the planet’s weight is made up of iron. Our models of the universe cannot explain how such a dense planet could form so close to the sun.
If all goes well, BepiColombo will become only the third space mission to Mercury. It is named after Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, an Italian mathematician and engineer, who helped NASA use a technique called gravity assist (or gravity slingshot) for the Mariner 10 probe.