Colourful craters and insights into Mercury’s mysterious surface showcased by Leicester scientists

University of Leicester researchers involved in upcoming BepiColombo mission to Mercury will be presenting at New Scientist Live 2018.

A colourful demonstration of how craters are formed on planets is one of a number of exciting presentations being delivered by University of Leicester scientists this year at New Scientist Live (20 – 23 September).

New Scientist Live is an award-winning, mind-blowing festival of ideas and discoveries for everyone curious about science and why it matters.

During this year’s festival, the University of Leicester will be demonstrating how craters are formed – by dropping ‘asteroids’ into coloured cornflour to show captivated audiences how sublayers of a planet are excavated and unearthed on impact.

The experiment will showcase at a micro level the impressive work that will be conducted by an innovative space instrument Leicester researchers have developed which will be on board the BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter, scheduled to launch in October 2018.

The Mercury Imaging X-ray spectrometer (MIXS) instrument is the first imaging X-ray instrument to visit another planetary body. By focusing on craters, volcanism and huge cliffs, MIXS will help us to understand the evolution of Mercury’s surface and the planet’s shrinkage by examining the composition of layers of material under the surface, excavated during the formation of large impact craters.

BepiColombo is a joint mission between the European and Japanese space agencies and consists of two orbiters anchored together. When BepiColombo arrives at Mercury in 2025, the orbiters will go their separate ways and begin their scientific work in earnest.

The University will showcase the magnificence of Mercury in a number of other exciting ways during New Scientist Live: a large globe, showing the physical, chemical and geological differences on the surface of the planet; a 3D model of the MIXS instrument printed at the University; a BepiColombo model made of Lego; and a 3D model of planet Mercury itself will all be on display at the University’s exhibit.

On Thursday 20 September, Professor Emma Bunce, who is Principal Investigator on the development of the MIXS instrument from our Department of Physics and Astronomy, will describe what we know about Mercury and how instruments on board will help us make new discoveries about both Mercury and the wider solar system. 

Professor Emma Bunce said: "This is a very exciting time for us at the University of Leicester, as we wait for the launch of the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft to Mercury. The data from our instrument and from the wider payload will revolutionise our understanding of Mercury. I look forward to sharing our excitement around this mission and encouraging the next generation of scientists to come and work with us on the data in 2025!”

Space scientist Dr Suzie Imber, who last year won BBC Two’s ‘Astronauts: Have You Got What It Takes?’, will also be attending New Scientist Live 2018, speaking to inquisitive minds both young and old about her experiences and her role as part of the wider University of Leicester BepiColombo team.

This year during New Scientist Live more than 140 speakers and 100 exhibitors will come together in one venue to create an unrivalled atmosphere and energy, packed with thought-provoking talks, ground-breaking discoveries, interactive experiences, workshops and performances.

  • Leicester is the UK’s leading space city, home to the National Space Centre, Space Park Leicester and the University of Leicester’s #outofthisworld space research.
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