Science

Mercury looks impressive in this first flyby photo of the BepiColombo mission of Europe and Japan

The joint European-Japanese spacecraft BepiColombo captured this view of Mercury on October 1, 2021, during the first of six flybys on its journey to orbit the planet in 2025. (Image credit: ESA / BepiColombo / MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Two spacecraft built by Europe and Japan captured their first close-up look at the planet Mercury on a weekend flyby, revealing a rocky world covered in craters.

The two connected probes, known together as BepiColombo, took their first image of Mercury on Friday night (October 1) during a flyby that sent them buzzing around the planet. The encounter marked the first of six Mercury flybys for BepiColombo, a joint effort by European and Japanese space agencies to slow enough to enter orbit around the planet in 2025.

BepiColombo took its first official photo of Mercury at 7:44 pm EDT (2344 GMT) with its Mercury Transfer Module 2 Monitoring Camera, a black and white navigation camera, as the probe was approximately 1,502 miles away. (2,418 kilometers) away from the planet, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Just 10 minutes earlier, at 7:34 pm EDT, BepiColombo made its closest approach to Mercury, passing within 124 miles (200 km) of the planet.

Related: BepiColombo in pictures: A trip to Mercury through Europe and Japan

Dozens of craters are visible on Mercury’s surface in the BepiColombo photo, as are a boom, thruster, and other parts of the spacecraft’s structure.

“The region shown is part of Mercury’s northern hemisphere, including Sihtu Planitia, which has been inundated by lavas. A smoother and brighter round area than its surroundings characterizes the plains around Calvino crater, which are called the Rudaki Plains. “ESA officials wrote in a statement. Photo Description. “You also see the 166 km wide Lermontov crater, which looks bright because it contains unique features of Mercury called ‘holes’ where volatile elements escape into space. It also contains a vent where volcanic explosions have occurred.”

ESA also released an annotated image identifying Mercury’s main craters in the BepiColombo image along with the raw photo. More photos are expected to be published in the coming days, as they are processed by the BepiColombo scientific team.

Related: Mercury’s Enduring Mysteries

This annotated view of the first photo of Mercury from BepiColombo identifies major craters and other features detected by the mission’s Mercury Transfer Module 2 Monitoring Chamber during a flyby on October 1, 2021. (Image credit: ESA / BepiColombo / MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

The $ 750 million BepiColombo mission consists of two different orbiters designed to study Mercury in unprecedented detail with a total of 16 different instruments. ESA’s contribution is the Mercury Planetary Orbiter to study the planet from above, while the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will study the planet’s magnetic field, plasma environment and dust.

The two orbiters travel to their target planet in the Mercury Transfer Module on a seven-year journey that began with a launch in 2018. So far, BepiColombo has successfully made four flybys of three different planets: one of Earth in April. 2020, two from Venus (in October 2020 and August 2021) and now one from Mercury.

The next Mercury flyby is scheduled for June 20, 2022 and will be followed by four more flybys in June 2023, September and December 2024, and January 2025. If all goes well, BepiColombo is expected to go into orbit around Mercury on December 5. , 2025.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@ or follow him at @tariqjmalik. Follow us on @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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