Europe-Japan space mission captures images of Mercury

Mercury as seen from Friday's BepiColombo spacecraft.
According to the European Space Agency, Saturday's first images of Mercury from the European-Japanese BepiColombo satellite have been returned.

These images were taken almost three years ago, when the unmanned mission vessel was launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

According to the ESA, black-and-white images were captured by the cameras attached to the BepiColombo.

However, the conditions for photographing the planet's night side were not ideal as the spacecraft approached at an altitude of 199 km (124 miles). The closest distance was about 1,000 km.

This is Mercury's northern Hemisphere. It includes large craters as well as an area that was flooded with lava billions years ago.

Elsa Montagnon (Spacecraft Operations Manager) said that the flyby was flawless from the spacecraft's point of view and it was incredible to finally see the target planet.

According to the agency, the BepiColombo mission will examine all aspects of the mysterious inner planet, from its core to surface processes and magnetic field, in order to "better understand the origin and evolution a planet near its parent star".

Mercury, the only other rocky planet orbiting our Sun to possess a magnetic field, is also it.

A liquid core generates magnetic fields, but Mercury's core should have become colder and more solid, just like Mars.

This anomaly could be caused by a feature in the core's composition. BepiColombo instruments will measure this with greater precision than was possible up to now.

Mercury, which is the planet with extremes, can be found on its surface. It oscillates between super-hot days at 430° Celsius (more than 800 Fahrenheit) and cold nights at minus 180C (minus 229F).

These days and nights can last almost three Earth months.

Previous missions had detected evidence of ice deep within the planet's pole craters.

Scientists believe that this could have been accumulated by comets hitting Mercury's surface.

BepiColombo will make five more Mercury flybys during a complicated trajectory that will also take the satellite past Venus and Earth.

Mercury could not receive it directly. The Sun's pull makes it so strong that a massive braking maneuver would be required to successfully place the satellite. This would require too much fuel for such a large spacecraft. It will continue for approximately five more years.

Gravitational assistance, also known as gravity, allows it to slow down naturally during its journey.

Further exploration of European-Japanese Space Mission Gets 1st Look at Mercury

2021 AFP