Mercury: See what the BepiColombo mission has now shown us…

Deepak Gupta June 25, 2022
Updated 2022/06/25 at 5:05 PM

BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to explore the planet Mercury. The spacecraft, launched into space in 2018, captured incredible images of the surface of Mercury on Thursday morning.

As we can see from the shared photos, the closest planet to the Sun was photographed as the mission flew by Mercury for a gravitational assist maneuver, about 920 km above its surface.

Mercury as we've never seen it with new images from BepiColombo

The European-Japanese BepiColombo mission has captured new images of Mercury as it carries out its approach to the planet's orbit, an operation expected to last until 2025. The records were released by the European Space Agency (ESA) this Friday (24).

I punched the air when the first images came in and then I got more and more excited.

this was the Jack Wright commentarya member of the team managing the mission and who helped plan the photos on the flyby.

Excitement and emotion took over the scientists responsible for the projects. After all, it is not every day that you receive a "postcard" sent from the vicinity of a neighbor in the Solar System millions of kilometers away. Even less so with the clarity and definition of the images that BepiColombo sent back on Thursday, when it was just a few hundred kilometers from the surface of the planet, the closest planet to the Sun.

The spacecraft of the joint mission of ESA and its Japanese counterpart JAXA was within 200 kilometers of Mercury, although this mark was reached on the night side of the planet.

The first images showing our Solar System neighbor illuminated were taken a few minutes later, when the spacecraft was already 800 kilometers away.

In total, the BepiColombo filmed the planet for approximately 40 minutes while the ship continued to depart Mercury as part of its scheduled flight.

In this image capture operation, agencies used the spacecraft's three monitoring cameras (MCAMs)which show black and white snapshots at a resolution of 1024x1024 pixels, giving a view of the topography of Mercury's crater.

In the selection of images shared by ESA, the 125 kilometers of Heaney can be seen, as well as other depressions such as Neruda, Amaral, Beckett, Grainger and Sher-Gil.

One of the most striking images BepiColombo leaves behind is the 1,550-kilometre-wide Caloris basin, which the spacecraft was able to capture as the Sun shone from above.

One of BepiColombo's goals is, in fact, to better understand the composition of volcanic lava in Caloris and its surroundings. Scientists believe they formed about 100 million years after the basin itself, a fact that ESA and JAXA now hope to shed light on.

This week's flight is the second for BepiColombo, which plans to complete six flybys before reaching Mercury's orbit in 2025. The next one will be a year from now: it is scheduled for June 20, 2023.

The main science mission will launch, if all goes according to the space agencies' plan and calendar, in early 2026.

The images from the first pass were good, but the second ones are better. They highlight many of the scientific goals we may be able to address once BepiColombo enters orbit. I want to understand its volcanic and tectonic history.

Explained David Rothery of the Open University and head of the European agency's Mercury Composition and Surface Working Group.

The joint ESA and JAXA mission will expand our knowledge of our closest neighbor to the Sun, which we already know thanks to the NASA Messengerwhich orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015, and Mariner 10which was also activated by the American space agency and flew over the planet in the mid-seventies.

While many of BepiColombo's instruments cannot yet be fully operated at the current stage of the journey, they already reveal information about the magnetic environment, plasma and particles.

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