Space probe BepiColombo takes a look at the planet Mercury. Find out here what the ESA probe captured in the photos during a flyby.
At the beginning of September 2021, the Juno space probe delivered impressive photos of the gas giant Jupiter. Not only amateur astronomers are amazed and rave. Now come fresh images of another planet: Mercury. What makes it so special? It is the smallest, closest and fastest celestial body in the solar system. Mercury orbits the sun in 88 days and rotates once around its own axis in 59 days. Like Earth, Mars and Venus, Mercury is a rocky planet. The European Space Agency ESA did not miss the opportunity to take a picture of it.
Mercury: This is to be seen on the photo
Are these photos from the moon? But no, it is a question of the surface overlooked with craters around the Mercury. On October 1, 2021, the joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission flew particularly close to Mercury. The photo was taken from 2,418 kilometers away from the planet, and the closest distance of the flyby was just 199 kilometers. The published black-and-white photo reveals some interesting structures and phenomena on Mercury. ESA explains, “The region shown is part of Mercury’s northern hemisphere, including Sihtu Planitia, which has been flooded by lava. A circular region that is smoother and brighter than its surroundings marks the plains around Calvino crater, called the Rudaki plains. Also 166 kilometers wide is Lermontov crater, which looks bright because it has unique Mercury features called ‘cavities’ where volatile elements escape into space. It also contains a vent where volcanic explosions have occurred.”
Here’s what the mission aims to find out
The goal of BepiColombo is to gather details about the planet, its composition and the fact that it evolved so close to the Sun. BepiColombo is expected to reach Mercury’s orbit by the end of 2025. The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are behind the mission. The spacecraft, which launched to Mercury on Oct. 20, 2018, is named after the nickname of Italian mathematician Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo (b. Oct. 2, 1920, Padua, Italy; † Feb. 20, 1984, same place). He had a proper hand in the first spacecraft to Mercury – NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1974 – and suggested the trajectory by which the spacecraft took advantage of Venus for a swing-by maneuver to be routed to Mercury. Mariner 10 then passed Mercury three times in working condition.