The joint European-Japanese mission BepiColombo captured the view of Mercury reproduced above on October 1, 2021, when the spacecraft passed the planet for a gravity-assisted maneuver.
The image was taken at 23:44:12 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, three hours ahead of Brasília) by Monitoring Camera 2 of the Mercury Transfer Module. The spacecraft was then about 2,418 km from the planet. The closest approach of about 199 km occurred shortly beforehand, at 23:34 UTC. In this view, north is facing the lower right corner. The cameras provide black and white snapshots with a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels.
The region shown is part of the northern hemisphere of Mercury, including Sihtu Planitia, which was flooded with lava. A rounded area smoother and brighter than its surroundings characterizes the plains around Calvino crater, called the Rudaki Plains. The 166 km wide Lermontov crater is also seen. It looks bright because it contains unique Mercury features, “cavities” where volatile elements are escaping into space. It also contains an opening where volcanic explosions occurred.
The BepiColombo mission will study these types of resources once in orbit around the planet.
Click here to get a version with annotations of this image.
The gravity-assist maneuver was the first on Mercury and the fourth of nine overflights overall. During his seven-year journey to the smallest and innermost planet in the Solar system, BepiColombo flies over the Earth, two in Venus and six on Mercury to help guide the course for Mercury’s orbit in 2025.
The Mercury Transfer Module carries two scientific orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, from the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, from the Japanese space agency (Jaxa). From complementary orbits, they will study all aspects of the mysterious Mercury from its core to surface, magnetic field and exosphere processes, to better understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star.
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