On June 23, 2022, the European/Japanese Space Agencies' mission to Mercury, BepiColombo, took a second swing past the solar system's smallest and innermost planet, donating some of its orbital energy so the spaceship can drop into an elliptical path around the Sun.
This was the second of six passes of Mercury, and it did the same maneuver twice. It flew over the planet's surface and took a series of pictures.
The Mercury Transfer Module, or MTM, acts as the guidance and propulsion for the whole kit and caboodle. The M-CAMs were used to take these images, because the science orbiters are locked down until they are able to fly. There are three cameras mounted at various places on the MTM that can take pictures that can be seen beyond the confines of the MTM.
Sometimes a planet can be found.
There is an antenna on the bottom and a magnetometer boom on the left side of the picture. Mercury is the star of the show.
The scarp is 2 km high and runs to the upper left from the bottom center. A huge impact crater about 200 km wide is just above it.
There is more information on the page for this image.
The second image was taken above the surface after the closest approach. There is at least one volcano that is a candidate volcano, and it is at the 10:00 position. The volcanic history of Mercury will be looked at by BepiColombo. planetary scientists will be able to understand the surface better and the processes and composition of the planet far below it.
Mercury is larger and denser than the moon. Mercury has the same density as Earth but it has a lot of metal in it. A giant impact sheared off the lighter, rocky material that made up the mantle and crust, leaving behind the denser core. The JAXA Mio part of the mission is important because it would have affected the planet's magnetic field. It will be able to map out the magnetic field and send back information about what is happening inside Mercury.
It's difficult to get to Mercury. Earth has a lot of sideways motion due to the fact that you can't just aim your rocket towards the Sun and burn away. It takes a lot of energy to get to Mercury. The techs planned a trajectory that passed Earth and Venus, allowing BepiColombo to donate energy to us and drop it down towards Mercury, a maneuver called a gravity assist. It needs to pass Mercury six times in a row to be able to enter a high, loose, bound, circle around the planet. After that happens, the two orbiters will separate, and each will do short engine burns to adjust to their new location.
There is a lovely video of some of the images from this flyby.
It was made from 56 M-CAM images taken on this pass. BepiColombo is moving quickly
Mercury is not easy to see from the ground. It rises less than an hour before the Sun, making it hard to see, and it is always near the Sun in the sky. I have seen it many times, but if you live in a place with a lot of clouds it may not be seen. The best way to view it is to send a craft there. BepiColombo will be a great follow-up to the successful Messenger mission.
Mercury isn't as well known as Mars or Venus, but it's a planet that's worthy of our attention. It will get it in 25 years.