The European and Japanese mission BepiColomobo has completed its second flyby of the planet Mercury and the images collected by the three monitoring cameras (MCAM) have been pouring in providing fantastic new views of the closest planet to the Sun.
“We have completed our second of six Mercury flybys and will be back this time next year for our third before arriving in Mercury orbit in 2025,” Emanuela Bordoni, ESA’s BepiColombo Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager, said in a statement.
The flyby was not for leisure but for work for the spacecraft. BepiColombo is set to study Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. It needed Mercury’s gravity to adjust its orbit and speed for its eventual orbit around the planet and this is the easiest and least fuel-consuming way to get into orbit. While there are a few years to go before the proper science campaign begins, the mission team did not miss the chance to do a bit of science as the craft flew by.
With the instruments currently available, they performed several observations as BepiColombo sped around the smallest planet. The closest approach, just 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the surface happened on the night side, so the camera began immortalizing the planet about five minutes later at a distance of 800 kilometers (497 miles). Images were taken for about 40 minutes.
In this flyby, the planet’s largest impact basin Caloris was seen for the first time by BepiColombo, its highly-reflective lava fields, which appear to be a hundred million years younger than the crater itself, standing out against the darker background as it rotated into the camera's field of view.
“I punched the air when the first images came down, and I only got more and more excited after that. The images show beautiful details of Mercury, including one of my favourite craters, Heaney, for which I suggested the name a few years ago,” explained Jack Wright, a member of the MCAM team, and a research fellow based at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Madrid, who helped to plan the imaging sequence for the flyby.
“Mercury flyby 1 images were good, but flyby 2 images are even better,” commented David Rothery of the Open University who leads ESA’s Mercury Surface & Composition Working Group and is also a member of the MCAM team.
“The images highlight many of the science goals that we can address when BepiColombo gets into orbit. I want to understand the volcanic and tectonic history of this amazing planet.”
BepiColombo will be in orbit around Mercury in December 2025, with the science mission beginning shortly after.