BepiColombo spacecraft sends its first images of Mercury during flyby

As the European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft passed Mercury on its mission to send two probes into orbit by 2025, it sent back its first images.
At 11.34 GMT Friday, the mission completed the first of six Mercury flybys. The spacecraft was slowed down by gravity thanks to the planet's gravity.

The spacecraft flew past Mercury at an altitude of less than 200km (125 miles) before taking a black-and-white picture with one its monitoring cameras.

According to the European Space Agency, the image captured shows Mercury's northern hemisphere and Mercury's distinctive pock-marked features.

Artist impression of BepiColombo flies by Mercury. Photograph: Esa/ATG Medialab/EPA

Elsa Montagnon (spacecraft operations manager) said that the flyby was flawless from spacecraft's point of view. It was amazing to finally see the target planet.

BepiColombo will examine all aspects of the mysterious inner planet, from its core to its surface processes, magnetic field, and exosphere to better understand how it evolved.

Mercury, the only other rocky planet orbiting our Sun that has a magnetic field, is Mercury. Magnetic fields are created by a liquid core, but Mercurys should be colder and more solid than Mars, given their size.

This anomaly could be caused by a feature in the cores composition. BepiColombos instruments can measure this with greater precision than was possible up to now.

In 2018, the joint mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Agency flew past Earth twice and twice past Venus to reach the smallest planet in the solar system.

BepiColombo must complete five more flybys before it can release Esas Mercury Planetary Orbiter or Jaxas Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. These probes will examine Mercury's core, processes and magnetic sphere.

Named after Giuseppe Bepi Colombo (Italian scientist), the mission was named for Giuseppe Bepi Colombo who helped develop the gravity assist maneuver that Nasas Mariner 10 used to fly to Mercury in 1974.

This report was contributed by Agence France Presse and Associated Press

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