the impressive images of its craters left by the BepiColombo mission

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“I punched the air when the first images came in and then I got more and more excited.” The comment is by Jack Wright and although it seems that he is talking about how he experienced the La Liga classic or the final minutes of a Rafa Nadal match, what he is really telling is how he received the material emitted by the BepiColombo mission on its second flyby of Mercury.

His excitement is understandable. It is not every day that you receive a “postcard” sent from the vicinity of a neighbor of the Solar System located million kilometers. And even less with the clarity and definition of the images issued by BepiColombo on Thursday, when it managed to get close to just a couple of hundred kilometers from the surface of the planet, the closest to the Sun.

The joint mission ship of the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Japanese counterpart (JAXA) came within 200 kilometers of Mercury, although that mark was reached on the night side of the planet. The first images that show us our neighbor in the illuminated Solar System were taken a few minutes later, when the spacecraft was already 800 kilometers away.

A unique photo book

A

In total, BepiColombo captured material during approximately 40 minuteswhile the ship continued to move away from the planet as part of its scheduled journey.

The ESA and JAXA captured the material thanks to the three monitoring cameras (MCAM) that the spacecraft incorporates and show black and white snapshots with a resolution of 1024×1024 pixelswhich allows us to appreciate the topography of Mercury, covered with craters.

“The images show beautiful details of Mercury, including one of my favorite craters, Heaney, whose name I suggested a few years ago,” notes Wright of the MCAM team and research associate at the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC) of the ESA in Madrid.

B.

In the selection of images shared by the ESA it can be seen the Heaney, 125 kilometers wide; but also other depressions, such as Neruda, Amaral, Beckett, grainer either Sher Gil. One of the most surprising images that BepiColombo leaves is Caloris Basin1,550 kilometers wide and that the spacecraft was able to capture while the Sun shone brightly from above.

One of the objectives of BepiColombo is in fact better understand the composition of the volcanic lavas of Caloris and its surroundings. Scientists believe they formed about a hundred million years after the basin itself, a fact that ESA and JAXA now hope to shed light on.

C

This week’s is the second flyby of BepiColombo, which plans to complete six before reaching Mercury’s orbit in 2025. For the next one we will have to wait a year: it is scheduled to on June 20, 2023. The main scientific mission will start, if everything goes according to plan and the schedule outlined by the space agencies is met, in early 2026.

“The images of the first flyby were good, but the second ones are better”, celebrates David Rothery, of the Open University and director of the Mercury Composition and Surface Working Group at the European agency: “They highlight many of the scientific objectives that we will be able to address when BepiColombo enters orbit. I want to understand its volcanic and tectonic history.”

D

The mission promoted jointly by ESA and JAXA will expand our knowledge about the closest neighbor to the Sun, about which we have already obtained information thanks to the NASA Messenger Program, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015; Y seaman 10also activated by the US space agency and which flew over the planet in the mid-1970s.

Pictures | THIS

“I punched the air when the first images came in and then I got more and more excited.” The comment…

“I punched the air when the first images came in and then I got more and more excited.” The comment…

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