Tuesday, July 23

Mercury-bound BepiColombo photographs craters and lava flows 2023

Mercury-bound BepiColombo showed us our Sun’s nearest planet.

On Monday, June 19, the spacecraft took spectacular photographs of Mercury during its third close approach.

After the closest approach, ESA published the first set of these new photographs. The black-and-white photographs show the planet’s extensively cratered surface and other geological and volcanic characteristics in detail.

“Mercury’s heavily cratered surface records a 4.6 billion year history of asteroid and comet bombardment, which together with unique tectonic and volcanic curiosities will help scientists unlock the secrets of the planet’s place in Solar System evolution,” said BepiColombo MCAM imaging team member Jack Wright in an ESA release.

Images of what?

The probe’s third gravity-assist flyby came within 150 miles (236 kilometers) of Mercury. This allowed the mission crew to gather data and photographs of this solar system’s innermost planet.

The ESA published three of 10 sets of pictures from a monitoring camera that captured several geological characteristics. The photos show lava flows, craters, and historic volcanic ridges.

The International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature named the probe’s crater Edna Manley after the 1987 Jamaican/British artist.

“During our image planning for the flyby, we realized this large crater would be in view, but it didn’t yet have a name,” stated UK Open University Professor of Planetary Geosciences David Rothery.

“It will clearly be of interest for BepiColombo scientists in the future because it has excavated dark ‘low-reflectance material’ that may be remnants of Mercury’s early carbon-rich crust,” said Rothery, a scientific imaging team member. The basin floor’s smooth lava shows Mercury’s lengthy history of volcanic activity.

Other highlights

Beagle Rupes, a 370-mile-long (600-kilometer) cliff that likely formed billions of years ago as young Mercury cooled and constricted, was another highlight. The cliff crosses Sveinsdóttir, a long crater.

Messenger, NASA’s 2011–2015 Mercury orbiter, found this cliff. The mission crew will compare the two photos to comprehend the characteristic.

The three photos also indicate several old impact basins that were likely filled with volcanic lavas when the planet was young and tectonically active, around the first billion years.

The team suggested BepiColombo examine this location to better understand Mercury’s tectonic past.

Flyby in September 2024.

The probe’s science equipment collected data on the spacecraft’s magnetic, plasma, and particle environments in addition to photographs.

A ‘farewell Mercury’ sequence of images was taken by BepiColombo as it left the planet.

Mercury will pass in September 2024.

BepiColombo will use solar electric propulsion to brake against the Sun’s enormous gravitational pull at one of the hardest portions of its lengthy space mission.

ESA and JAXA launched this mission in 2018. The probe will go from the sun’s orbit to Mercury’s orbit in late 2025 using Earth, Venus, and Mercury’s gravity.

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