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Refining our view on planet Mercury, in anticipation for the BepiColombo mission.

Project description

Study could open up an entirely new view of planet Mercury

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and the smallest one in our solar system. Its surface appears cratered and uninterrupted by recent geologic activity but has a strong magnetic field, which implies that the planet core is at least partially molten. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the MERCURYREFINEMENT project will leverage data from the MESSENGER mission to uncover further information about Mercury’s interior structure, magnetic field and surface age. Advanced models of the planet’s core composition will be developed and dynamo simulations will be conducted to study magnetic field generation for certain dynamo constraints. Project results could prove useful for the next spacecraft mission BepiColombo, scheduled to begin orbiting Mercury in 2025.


As the inner-most object of our solar system, planet Mercury is of unique relevance for e.g. solar system dynamics, planetary formation theory, and terrestrial magnetic field generation. So far, two single (NASA) space missions to Mercury have been performed. In 2018, ESA and JAXA will launch the dual-satellite BepiColombo to study Mercury from orbit with the largest and most advanced payload to date. BepiColombo’s formal objectives have been formulated prior to NASA’s latest space mission to Mercury (MESSENGER). It is now time to use MESSENGER's data return to refine our view on Mercury as support for BepiColombo’s measurement phase, starting December 2025.
In this fellowship, MESSENGER data will be used to re-investigate Mercury’s interior structure, magnetic field and surface age. At the Royal Observatory of Belgium, advanced core-composition specific models on the planet’s interior will be developed. These will incorporate new experimental data on relevant metallic core-alloys which will be obtained at the High-Pressure laboratory of the VU University in Amsterdam and at synchrotron facilities. The potential of future geophysical measurements to constrain Mercury’s core composition will be the emphasize of these models.
Dynamo simulations will be performed at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research to study Mercury’s magnetic field generation for a suite of dynamo constraints. These will improve constraints on the core’s dynamic state, which relates to the planet’s structure and core composition.
Also, a new crater-counting-based surface dating method will be developed and calibrated by new models for the inner solar system’s dynamics. Applied to Mercury, this method will refine its surface age and its geological evolution and informs on the evolution and state of its mantle.
Results of the above topics will be discussed in light of the measurement potential of BepiColombo and other future space missions and in light of the planet’s formation.



Net EU contribution
€ 178 320,00
Avenue Circulaire 3
1180 Bruxelles / Brussel

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Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/ Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Arr. de Bruxelles-Capitale/Arr. Brussel-Hoofdstad
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 178 320,00