ESA /Jaxa The BepiColombo mission captured the first sight of its target planet Mercury, which went into orbit near close gravity last night.
The closest approach took place on October 1, 2021 at 23:34 UTC, at an altitude of 199 km above the planet’s surface. Images from the spacecraft’s surveillance cameras, as well as scientific data from several instruments, were collected during the meeting. Pictures have already been downloaded on Saturday morning, and a selection of the first recordings is presented here.
“Flyby is flawless from a spacecraft perspective, and finally seeing our destination planet is unbelievable,” says Elsa Montagnon, the mission’s operating manager for the mission.
Surveillance cameras provide black and white snapshots with a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels, and they are positioned on the Mercury Transfer model.
Images were obtained approximately five minutes and four hours after close-up. Since BabyColombo came on the night of the planet, the conditions were not optimal for taking direct pictures at close-up, so the close-up image was captured from a distance of about 1000 km.
In many films, some large impact grooves can be identified.
“It’s an incredible feeling to see almost live images of Mercury.”
“It was so exciting to see the first pictures of BabyColombo on Wednesday, and to find out what we see,” says David Rotheri of the UK Open University, which leads ESA’s Mercury Surface and Compound Task Force. “It makes me even more curious to read the high-quality scientific data we need to get when we are in orbit around Mercury, because it is actually a planet we do not yet fully understand.”
Although at first glance the crater may look like Earth’s moon, Mercury has a very different history. Once its core scientific mission begins, BabyColombo’s two scientific orbits – ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetic Orbiter – will explore all aspects of mysterious Mercury from the center to surface processes, the magnetic field and the outer atmosphere. The planet is close to its parent star. For example, it will map the surface of Mercury and analyze its composition to learn more about its formation. One theory is that it may have started out as a large body, with most of its rock removed by a large impact. It has a relatively large iron core, formed by its magnetic field, and is only a thin rock outer shell.
Mercury is not the equivalent of the ancient bright lunar mountains: its surface is dark almost everywhere, and formed by extensive eruptions of volcanoes billions of years ago. These volcanic eruptions bear the scars of craters formed by asteroids and comets, which fall to the surface at speeds of up to ten kilometers per hour.
BepiColombo explores these themes and helps to fully understand this mysterious planet, creating the collected data NASAMission of. It deals with questions such as: What are the turbulent substances that violently turn into gas to power volcanic eruptions? How did Mercury sustain this turmoil if it removed most of its rock? How long did the volcanic activity last? How fast does Mercury’s magnetic field change?
“In addition to the images we received from surveillance cameras, we operated a number of scientific instruments on the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter,” says Johannes Benkoff, ESA’s BepiColombo Project Scientist. “I’m looking forward to seeing these results. It’s a wonderful night change with amazing teamwork and so many happy faces.”
BabyColombo’s major scientific work will begin in early 2026. It uses nine planetary flight missions: one on Earth, two at Venus, And the Mercury River, along with the spacecraft’s solar-powered system, help launch Mercury into orbit. Its next Wednesday flight will take place on June 23, 2022.
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