The BepiColombo spacecraft sends its first images of Mercury during the flyby | Space
Euro-Japanese spacecraft BepiColombo returned its first images of Mercury, as it passed through the solar system’s innermost planet while on a mission to put two probes into orbit in 2025.
The mission carried out the first of six overflights over Mercury at 11:34 p.m. GMT on Friday, using the planet’s gravity to slow the spacecraft.
After flying over Mercury at altitudes below 200 km (125 miles), the spacecraft took a low-resolution black-and-white photo with one of its surveillance cameras before taking off again.
The European Space Agency said the captured image shows the northern hemisphere and characteristic pockmarked features of Mercury, including the 166 km-wide Lermontov crater.
“The flyby was flawless from a spacecraft perspective, and it’s amazing to finally see our target planet,” said Elsa Montagnon, spacecraft operations manager for the mission.
The BepiColombo mission will study all aspects of this mysterious inner planet, from its core to surface processes, including the magnetic field and the exosphere, “to better understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to its mother star, ”Esa said.
Mercury is the only rocky planet orbiting the Sun next to ours to have a magnetic field. Magnetic fields are generated by a liquid core, but given its size, Mercury’s should have turned cold and solid, as Mars did.
This anomaly could be due to a feature of the composition of the nucleus, something that BepiColombo’s instruments will measure with much greater accuracy than has been possible so far.
The joint mission of the European agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency was launched in 2018, flying over Earth once and Venus twice on its journey to the smallest planet in the solar system.
Five more flyovers are needed before BepiColombo is slowed down enough to free Esa’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Jaxa’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The two probes will study the nucleus and processes of Mercury on its surface, as well as its magnetic sphere.
The mission is named after Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who helped develop the gravitational assist maneuver that NASA’s Mariner 10 first used on its flight to Mercury in 1974.
Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report