A new video released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Monday June 27 shows the crater-riddled surface of the smallest planet in the solar system, Mercury, captured during a very close flyby by the BepiColombo spacecraft.
BepiColomboa joint mission of ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is currently on a seven-year cruise through the interior solar systemusing the gravity of the planets including Mercury, Venus and Earth slow down so he can get in Mercurythe orbit of 2025.
The Mercury flyby, which took place Thursday, June 23, was BepiColombo’s second over the rocky, scorched planet that will be its ultimate destination. Just like during the first meeting, which took place on October 1, 2021, the probe approached the planet at an extremely close distance of just 120 miles (200 kilometers). This is closer than the two orbiters that make up the BepiColombo mission will orbit the planet after their arrival.
Related: The BepiColombo spacecraft flies past Venus on a long route to Mercury
The video released by ESA brings together 56 images captured by the spacecraft’s three low-resolution surveillance cameras over a 15-minute period shortly after the probe’s closest approach to the planet. The first image was taken at a distance of 572 miles (920 km) and the sequence ends with BepiColombo 3,790 miles (6,099 km) from the planet.
Because BepiColombo approached Mercury from the night side, the spacecraft could not photograph the planet during the closest approach. However, other instruments aboard both orbiters were turned on, measuring solar wind near the spacecraft. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun that passes through the entire solar system, triggering space weather events on Earth and other planets.
The two orbiters travel in space stacked on top of a transfer module, so their high-resolution imagers are hidden and cannot be used during the cruise phase.
The new images reveal a plethora of geological features, including numerous craters, volcanic planes and cliff-like tectonic fissures. Among the craters captured by the spacecraft is Caloris Planitia, the largest impact basin on Mercury and one of the largest in the entire solar system. The 960-mile-wide (1,550 km) crater was created by a giant asteroid at least 60 miles (100 km) in diameter. For comparison, scientists estimate that Chicxulub asteroid that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago was only 10 km wide.
BepiColombo is only the second mission in history designed to orbit Mercury and the third to have photographed it. The planet is notoriously difficult to reach because any spacecraft heading into the inner solar system must constantly brake against the gravitational pull of the Sun. The mission engineers therefore mapped a long and winding trajectory that passes through several celestial bodies, the gravity which slows down the spacecraft.
NASA messenger mission studied Mercury between 2011 and 2015. The probe observed a series of puzzling phenomena, including the startling magnetic field and the existence of ice in shaded craters around the poles of the planet. This ice persists in these regions despite the fact that temperatures in parts of the planet exposed to the sun can reach a merciless 800 degrees Fahrenheit (420 degrees Celsius). BepiColombo is designed to shed more light on the mysteries of the planet.
The first probe to have photographed Mercury was that of NASA Sailor 10, which performed three flybys of the planet in the early 1970s while orbiting the sun. The next flyby of Mercury by BepiColombo will take place in about a year. Meanwhile, next month, BepiColombo will make the closest approach it has ever made to the sun.