Europe’s Mercury probe BepiColombo made its third close flyby of the target planet on Monday (June 19), revealing a surface riddled with craters, including one that just got a name.
The joint European/Japanese expedition launched in 2018 is nearing the final leg of its seven-year journey through the interior. Solar System. During this journey, BepiColombo relies on gravity of the planets LandAnd Venus And his goal Mercury to slow itself down enough to be able to transition from the orbit of the Sun to the orbit of Mercury in late 2025.
The latest gravity-assisted maneuvers took place on Monday and saw BepiColombo fly within 150 miles (236 kilometers) of Mercury’s surface. The scientists in charge of the mission took the opportunity to measure the environment near the innermost planet of the solar system and to take pictures of its scorched surface.
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The European Space Agency (ESA) released the first of these new images on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the closest approach, which took place on Monday at 3:34 p.m. EDT (1934 GMT).
The images reveal what the European Space Agency has described as a “geological bounty”: a large number of craters, ancient volcanic mounds and lava flows. One of the most intriguing features in the photos is the crater that just got a new name: Edna Manley, after a Jamaican/British artist who died in 1987.
“As we were planning the flyby images, we realized that this large crater would be visible, but it had not yet had a name,” David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the UK’s Open University and a member of the BepiColombo Science Imaging team, said at the European Space Agency. statement. “It will obviously be of interest to BepiColombo scientists in the future, because it has excavated dark ‘low-reflection material’ that may be the carbon-rich remnants of Mercury’s early crust. In addition, the floor of the basin within it was flooded by smooth lava, indicative of Mercury’s prolonged history.” to volcanic activity.
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The spacecraft also spotted the Beagle Rubis Shelf, a 370-mile (600 km) cliff that formed billions of years ago when young Mercury cooled and contracted. Beagle Rupes was discovered by NASA’s Messenger mission that orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015, and scientists are looking to compare the original scenes with those captured by BepiColombo. The images also reveal a variety of ancient impact basins that were engulfed by lava during the first billion years of the planet’s life, when it was still tectonically active.
“This is a fascinating area for studying the tectonic history of Mercury,” BepiColombo team member Valentina Galluzzi, a scientist at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, said in the release. “The complex interaction between these cliffs shows that as the planet cools and contracts, it causes the surface crust to slide and slide, creating a variety of intriguing features that we will pursue in more detail once it enters orbit.”
Unfortunately, the spacecraft was unable to take pictures during its closest approach, as it reached the planet from the night side. The closest images were taken at a distance of 2,170 miles (3,500 km) 20 minutes after closest approach.
The BepiColombo mission consists of two orbiters floating through space stacked on top of each other, which means some of the probe’s instruments are currently hidden away. This includes the BepiColombo HD Home Cameras. Available images from the three surveillance cameras (which were originally created to monitor the deployment of the spacecraft’s solar panels after launch) have a modest resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels.
The spacecraft has been using these cameras to send home postcards throughout its journey, including from a 2020 Earth flyby, two Venus flybys in 2020 and 2021, and two previous Mercury flybys in 2021 and 2022. The coming years Before BepiColombo releases enough energy to finally be captured by the weak gravity of tiny Mercury (which is only slightly larger than Earth’s moon) in December 2025.
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