BepiColombo recently had its first close flyby of Mercury, its eventual mission target, and got to snap some pictures to commemorate the event. Even at this early stage of the mission, these images are some of the clearest we have ever had of the innermost planet.
The spacecraft itself passed within about 199 km of the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, it was on the night side of the planet at that point, and as such, nothing was visible on the surface from that close. However, the probe did start taking photos immediately after the closest approach, and up to 4 hours later. Impressively, it also directly sent the messages back to its handlers on Earth within 12 hours.
Some of the visible craters on Mercury from images snapped during BepiColombo’s first flyby, as well as some craft instrumentation visible on the left side of the picture.Credit – ESA
Scientists’ general first impressions of the new images were positive. In addition to capturing the planet’s surface, mission controllers attempted to capture images of the probe’s equipment itself to check its structural integrity. All appeared nominal, ensuring the probe will be in good shape to start conducting its scientific mission in 2026 after ...