BepiColombo: Europe’s mission to Mercury sent the first images

The European mission BepiColombo sent the first images of Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun. The boat took the photos shortly after it flew over this small world at an altitude of just 200 kilometers (125 miles).

The controllers have planned five more such transits, each time using Mercury’s gravitational pull to help control the spacecraft’s speed. The goal is for Bepi to move slowly enough so that it can finally be placed in a stable orbit around the planet. This should happen by the end of 2025.

The first images of the mission from Mercury were taken by low-resolution surveillance cameras on the side of the ship. At the moment, these are the only ones available. Bepi is not ready to develop high-resolution scientific cameras.

Bepi are essentially two spaceships in one. One part has been developed by the European Space Agency (Esa), while the other part has been developed by the Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa). The way these two components are packed for the trip to Mercury prevents the main cameras from opening.

Mechanical cameras, or “selfies”, are still good enough to distinguish recognizable features on the planet’s surface. Plain black and white photos began reaching Earth on Saturday. Once the scientists process them all, Esa is expected to combine them to make a short film, which will probably be released on Monday.

Photo: BEPICOLOMBO

Professor Dave Rothery from the Open University of the United Kingdom said he was excited about what Bepi saw. “It’s just happy moments as we go through, but what a wonderful view of the planet we had,” he told BBC News.

“You see a surface with craters, but also areas that have been smoothed out by huge volcanic lava flows. Some of the brightest areas are where there have been volcanic eruptions in the distant past, and you can also see where some of the surface material is diffused into space today.

When we see really high resolution images after being in orbit, you will see that the upper 10-20 meters of the surface diffuse into space, giving you these steep sides, flat cavities “.

The two parts of the mission (European and Japanese) will be separated when they enter orbit around Mercury and will perform different roles. The European spacecraft Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) is designed to map Mercury soil, create elevation profiles, collect data on the structure and composition of the planet’s surface, and detect its interior.

BepiColombo: Europe's mission to Mercury sent the first images
Design: ESA / ATG MEDIALAB

The Japanese Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will have as a priority the study of the magnetic field of Mercury. It will investigate the behavior of the field and its interaction with the “solar wind”, the expanding mass of particles flowing away from the Sun. This wind interacts with the extremely sparse atmosphere of Mercury.

“Once we get into orbit, then we will start studying the magnetic field on Mercury and the surface of Mercury, which has huge temperatures (450C), the temperature of a pizza oven, and yet has water on the surface in some places,” he said. Professor Mark McCaughrean, Esa Senior Exploration Advisor.

“Bepi is just the third mission ever to Mercury and will be much closer for much longer than previous missions. “So we have a real opportunity to answer some of these mysteries about why the planet is what it is,” he told BBC News.

BepiColombo: Europe's mission to Mercury sent the first images
Photo: @BEPICOLOMBO

Source:

www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58754882


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