The BepiColombo space mission, launched in 2018, made its third orbit of Mercury, the closest ever. The spacecraft flew just 236 kilometers from the planet’s surface and took dozens of images that were transmitted to Earth. Three of these were selected for display in the “early release,” and they represent some of the best views of Mercury ever recorded.
One of the photos shows the Edna Manley crater, which just got its name after the prominent Jamaican artist. Scientists believe that the composition of the dark material in the crater may provide an intriguing insight into what minerals are present on Mercury, especially carbon. This work will open a new window into the study of the planet’s geological history.
BepiColombo is a joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) that was launched in 2018 to study Mercury. The mission consists of two spacecraft that will work together: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). They will study various aspects of the planet, including its geology, magnetic field, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
How does the BepiColombo mission work?
The BepiColombo mission uses a trajectory designed by Italian engineer Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo to reach Mercury. It also uses an electric motor to further decelerate. These rockets do not provide as much thrust as chemical rockets, but being slow and steady – they can run for weeks or even months – they can achieve significant deceleration.
The mission is only a few years away from reaching Mercury orbit, which is scheduled for December 2025. The next flyby is scheduled for September 2024, and there will be several more flyovers before then.
The significance of the BepiColombo mission for science
The BepiColombo mission is of great importance to science. Studying Mercury can help us better understand how planets in our solar system formed and evolved. Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system, and it is closest to the Sun. This makes it especially interesting to study because it can give us an idea of what conditions were like on other planets in the past.
Studying Mercury can also help scientists better understand how the planet’s magnetic field works and how it interacts with the solar wind. It may help us better understand how magnetic fields work on other planets and in other star systems.
David Rotheri, professor of planetary Earth sciences at the U.K. Open University and a member of the MCAM imaging BepiColombo team, notes: “The overflight images are of great interest to scientists. They can give us new insights into the geological history of Mercury and help us better understand how planets in our solar system formed and evolved.”