Mercury can sing: listen to the first sounds from the planet closest to the Sun


While the BepiColombo spacecraft flew over Mercury earlier this month, it was not just an ordinary flyby for a spacecraft around a planet, it launched science to study the planet closest to the Sun. During the first flyby on October 1, the spacecraft sampled the magnetic and particulate environment around Mercury while flying 199 kilometers from the planet, feeling its intense gravitational pull.

Engineers have now released the magnetic and accelerometric data by converting it to sound, giving us the first sound to emanate from the planet. The audio reveals the sound of massive solar winds bombarding a planet close to the Sun, the bending of the spacecraft as it responded to the change in temperature as it flew from night to day on the planet, and the sound of a rotating scientific instrument in its park position.

“It may have been a fleeting overview, but for some of BepiColombo’s instruments it marked the start of their scientific data collection and a chance to really start preparing for the main mission,” said Johannes Benkhoff, scientist from ESA’s BepiColombo project in a press release. .


The spacecraft collected data using its ultraviolet spectrometer for an hour during the closest approach, focusing on the elements in the planet’s extremely low density atmosphere that are generated either by the solar wind, or by the surface of the planet. Analysis of the data shows a high level of hydrogen and calcium when BepiColombo emerged from the shadow of Mercury.

The European Space Agency said that once in orbit around Mercury, the spectrometer will characterize in detail the composition and dynamics of its exosphere, observing how it changes with location and time. In addition to the spectrometer, during the flyby, the Mercury Gamma Neutron Spectrometer (MGNS) was also in operation, which detected luminous fluxes of neutron and gamma rays produced by the interaction of galactic cosmic rays with the upper surface layers of Mercury. .

The spacecraft also recorded details of the solar wind and magnetic field around the planet, collecting new data from the southern hemisphere of the planet. “It’s like I’ve just explored North America and seen South America through binoculars, but unfortunately have to stop the expedition. As a researcher, you are naturally curious and desperate to go back, ”said Daniel Heyner, who heads the MPO Magnetometer Researcher Group.


Engineers converted the data collected by the spacecraft into audio, capturing the changing strength of the solar magnetic field and wind, including when the spacecraft passed through the magnetosheath, the highly turbulent boundary region between the solar wind and the magnetosphere around the planet.

BepiColombo is on a seven-year trip to Mercury. (Photo: ESA)

“Once in Mercury’s orbit, additional magnetic field measurements made by ESA’s MPO and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (known as Mio) will lead to a detailed magnetic field analysis of the planet and its source, in order to better understand the origin, evolution and current state of the planet’s interior, ”ESA said in a statement.

The sound also contains the intense accelerations measured by the spacecraft as it experienced the planet’s extreme gravitational pull during the flyby.

“On the acceleration plots that appeared on our screens, we could see the tidal effects of Mercury on the BepiColombo structure, the drop in the pressure of solar radiation as it passed through the shadow of the planet, and the movement of the planet. center of mass. of the spacecraft due to the bending of the large solar panels, ”explains Carmelo Magnafico of the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics.


Launched in October 2018, BepiColombo is on a seven-year trip to Mercury. To complete its journey, the spacecraft needs nine “planetary gravitational aids” that would allow it to adjust its trajectory on the path of the solar system’s innermost planet.

The first of these “planetary gravitational assist” was recorded around Earth in April of this year while the second, around Venus, took place in October 2020. Its third “planetary gravitational assist” was also around Venus plus early this year because the other six will be around Mercury itself.

Once the BepiColombo spacecraft reaches the orbit of Mercury, it will split into two. This will lead to the release of a European orbiter ‘Bepi’. The orbiter will enter Mercury’s internal orbit while the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s “Mio” will continue to collect data remotely.

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