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In a first for any city in the UK, Leicester has announced an official ‘twinning’ with the planet Mercury. The arrangement has been facilitated by the University of Leicester, which is a partner in the current international mission to Mercury, called BepiColombo.

New signage installed over the weekend on main approaches to Leicester proudly announces that the city is ‘Twinned with Mercury’, while a small brass plaque on board BepiColombo reads ‘Mercury: Twinned with Leicester’.

Image Credit: University of Leicester

“This is the start of a new era of interplanetary friendship,” said Professor Arthur Folsom, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation and Ideas at the University of Leicester. “By creating this symbolic link with Mercury, we are demonstrating that the City of Leicester is an important location within the solar system. As home to the National Space Centre and the forthcoming Space Park Leicester, we can rightfully claim the title of ‘Space City UK.’”

Launched in October 2018, BepiColombo is a joint European-Japanese mission which will be only the third ever probe to visit the innermost planet. One of its key instruments is the MIXS x-ray telescope, designed and built at the University of Leicester. The spacecraft and its cargo – which also includes a University of Leicester hoodie, a Leicester City FC sticker album and an ‘I ? Richard III’ commemorative mug – will reach Mercury in December 2025.

Dr Amanda Fothergill, Senior Lecturer in Things That Actually Are Rocket Science, expressed surprise at the University’s announcement, saying: “That all sounds lovely and fraternal and everything, but please understand that every single gram of weight on a spacecraft like BepiColombo has to be accounted for and justified.

“All of the calculations about the vehicle’s trajectory are based on knowing its exact mass. If additional items have been smuggled on board, it could end up missing Mercury entirely. I don’t think they’ve thought this through.”

Leicester is currently twinned with Strasbourg in France, Krefeld in Germany, Haskovo in Bulgaria, Masaya in Nicaragua, Rajkot in India and Chongqing in China. Mercury is currently twinned with the Sea of Tranquillity, three minor moons of Saturn and the ice planet Hoth.

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