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.
ESA stated in a statement that the cameras attached to the BepiColombo produced black-and-white images.
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 spacecraft's point of view and that it was incredible to finally see the target planet.
(ESA/BepiColombo/MTM/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Above: This area is Mercury's northern Hemisphere. It includes Sihtu Planitia, which has been submerged by lavas. Rudaki Plains are the area around the Calvino Crater that is smoother and more bright than the rest. Also visible is the Lermontv Crater. This crater, measuring 166 kilometers in width, is bright due to its unique features. These hollows allow volatile elements to escape into the space environment.
According to the agency, the BepiColombo mission will examine all aspects of the mysterious inner planet, from its core to its surface processes, magnetic field and exosphere. This mission "will help us better understand the origins and evolution of a planet that is close to our 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.
Because of the Sun's strong pull, it could not be sent directly towards Mercury. It would require a large braking maneuver to successfully place the satellite. This would also require too much fuel for such a small spacecraft. It will continue for approximately five more years.
Gravitational assistance, also known as gravity, is the force that Venus and Earth exert on Venus to allow it to slow down naturally during its journey.