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Comparison of the Moon (left) and Mercury (right). Images: NASA

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and is the least studied terrestrial planet. It is similar in appearance to the Moon with a heavily cratered surface, though is a lot smaller. The recent NASA Messenger mission has revealed that it has an unexpectedly volatile-rich surface, with volcanic flood basalts, and large impact basins formed prior to 3.5 billion years ago.

In Manchester we are providing scientific guidance for an experiment called MIXS, which has been built at the University of Leicester (UK), and which will be flown on the European Space Agency’s BepiColumbo  mission to Mercury. MIXS will map the surface chemistry of Mercury using X-rays, helping to shed new light on the planet’s geological evolution. We are characterising analogue materials (terrestrial and lunar samples) using chemistry techniques and infrared spectroscopy, to help provide a link between understanding surface composition and mineral makeup.


  • Fraser G. W. et al. [45 authors, including Joy K. H.]. (2010). The Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS) on BepiColombo. Planetary and Space Science. Vol. 58, pp. 79-95.
  • Rothery D. A., Marinangeli L., Anand M., Carpenter J., Christensen U., Crawford I.A., De Sanctis M. C., Epifani E. M, Erard S., Frigeri A., Fraser G., Hauber E., Helbert J., Hiesinger H., Joy K. H., Langevin Y., Massironi M., Milillo A., Mitrofanov I., Muinonen K., Näränen J., Pauselli C., Potts P., Warell J., and Wurz P. (2010). Mercury's surface and composition studied by BepiColombo. Planetary and Space Science. Vol. 58, pp. 21-39.
  • Weider S. Z., Swinyard B. M., Kellett B. J., Howe C. J., Joy K. H., Crawford I. A., Gow J., and Smith D. R. (2011). Planetary X-ray fluorescence analogue laboratory experiments and an elemental abundance algorithm for C1XS. Planetary and Space Science. Vol. 59, pp. 1393-1407. doi:10.1016/j.pss.2011.05.005.
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