The European Space Agency has announced that its spacecraft has made a flyby of Mercury. Mercury is the first planet from Sun in the ascending order. It is also the smallest one in the entire solar system. The ESA said that BepiColombo’s flyby was successful. BepiColombo is slated to have six encounters with the planet. This was the first flyby. BepiColombo is a joint mission by the ESA and Japan. It is designed to study Mercury’s magnetosphere, magnetic field, and surface structure. The mission was launched in 2018. BepiColombo performed the flyby from an altitude of 200 km above the planet’s surface. It will enter into Mercury’s orbit and start circling the planet in December 2025.
BepiColombo captured images and science data of Mercury during the flyby. Although it is difficult to click high-resolution pictures during flybys, scientists expect that it will give the first taste of the main mission. The ESA said that BepiColombo sent an image that shows the planet’s northern hemisphere. The region is flooded by lavas. It said that the Lermontov crater could also be seen in the picture. It appears bright. The crater contains volatile elements that are escaping to outer space. Scientists have also spotted a vent. They said that volcanic explosions occurred at the vent. The agency said that BepiColombo will begin a science mission and study the planet’s features after it enters orbit.
Many of the images sent by BepiColombo are overexposed. It is believed that Mercury’s surface is heavily cratered. The surface appears quite similar to the Moon of Earth. Scientists believe that mapping Mercury’s surface and studying its composition allows them to decode the planet’s formation and understand its evolution. BepiColombo has two orbiters. The first one is Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the second is Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The spacecraft in total will make nine planetary flybys including the six of Venus before orbital insertion. It will make one flyby of Earth and two of Venus. This will help the spacecraft to steer into the orbit of Mercury.