Breathtaking images of the closest planet to the sun returned from 62 million kilometers


A spacecraft called BepiColumbo flew over the planet Mercury on its way to… Mercury.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun (though not always the closest object), but although it is one of the closest planets to Earth, it is the least explored and least understood.

Cue BepiColumbo, which was launched almost three years ago to study Mercury from near orbit, but not until 2025.

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The brief flyby saw the spacecraft reach only 198 kilometers from the surface.

It captured images and scientific data to give mission scientists a taste of what was to come in the main mission, although because the spacecraft arrived on the night side of the planet, the image la closest was captured about 1,000 kilometers away.

These images, which show impact craters on Mercury that make it look like our Moon, returned when BepiColumbo and Mercury were 62 million miles / 100 million kilometers from Earth.

Unfortunately, the images are not particularly high resolution. This is because the main science camera is stowed away while BepiColumbo navigates through space.

These images were therefore taken by two of BepiColombo’s three surveillance cameras, which took photos at a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels about five minutes after the near approach time until about four hours later.

BepiColumbo is actually two orbiters; the European Space Agency (ESA) Planetary Mercury Orbiter (MPO) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Magnetospheric Mercury Orbiter (MMO). They will study Mercury in sync to give astronomers two data points on certain projects.

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The spacecraft is named after the late Professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, an Italian mathematician and engineer who discovered a resonance that rotates Mercury on its axis three times every two years.

He also helped NASA use gravity-assisted flyovers of Venus and Mercury for its Mariner 10 probe, something the BepiColumbo spacecraft uses extensively to orbit around its target.

During a trip that will total seven years, BepiColombo will reach Mercury at a speed slow enough to enter orbit – on December 5, 2025 – only thanks to flyovers first of the Earth, then twice of Venus and six times of Mercury itself.

This week saw its first flyby of Mercury, with the next scheduled for June 23, 2022..

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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