Skip to main content

BepiColombo mission snaps images of Mercury on its first flyby

The European and Japanese mission BepiColombo has made its first flyby of Mercury, capturing images of the planet it will eventually be exploring in more depth. In order to get close to the planet, the spacecraft makes use of the planet’s gravity to make increasingly close approaches. It has already made one flyby of Earth and two of Venus, and this was the first of six flybys of Mercury.

As the craft passed by, it snapped images of Mercury using the Monitoring Camera 3 on its Mercury Transfer Module, which captures images in black and white with a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels. In the image below, you can see the spacecraft’s antennae and magnetometer boom.

A view of Mercury captured by the joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission on 1 October 2021 as the spacecraft flew past the planet.
The joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission captured this view of Mercury on 1 October 2021 as the spacecraft flew past the planet for a gravity assist maneuver. ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The closest image was taken from around 620 miles from the planet, which is close enough to see impact craters on its surface.

“It was an incredible feeling seeing these almost-live pictures of Mercury,” said Valentina Galluzzi, co-investigator of BepiColombo’s SIMBIO-SYS imaging system that will be used once in Mercury orbit. “It really made me happy meeting the planet I have been studying since the very first years of my research career, and I am eager to work on new Mercury images in the future.”

View of Mercury captured by the BepiColombo mission October 2021 as the spacecraft flew past the planet for a gravity assist maneuver.
The joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission captured this view of Mercury on 1 October 2021 as the spacecraft flew past the planet for a gravity assist maneuver. The image was taken at 23:40:27 UTC by the Mercury Transfer Module’s Monitoring Camera 3 when the spacecraft was 1183 km from Mercury. ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The flyby was also a chance to check that the cameras and other instruments were working as expected and that everything is healthy with the spacecraft.

“In addition to the images we obtained from the monitoring cameras we also operated several science instruments on the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter,” said Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo project scientist. “I’m really looking forward to seeing these results. It was a fantastic night shift with fabulous teamwork, and with many happy faces.”

BepiColombo will now continue making flybys of Mercury, with its next set to occur in June 2022 and its main science mission beginning in 2026.

“The flyby was flawless from the spacecraft point of view, and it’s incredible to finally see our target planet,” said Elsa Montagnon, Spacecraft Operations Manager for the mission.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Lucy spacecraft snaps stunning image of Earth during flyby
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft captured this image (which has been cropped) of the Earth on Oct 15, 2022, as a part of an instrument calibration sequence at a distance of 380,000 miles (620,000 km). The upper left of the image includes a view of Hadar, Ethiopia, home to the 3.2 million-year-old human ancestor fossil for which the spacecraft was named.

Earlier this month, NASA's Lucy spacecraft whipped by Earth as it performed a flyby on its way to the Trojan asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter. While it was passing by, it snapped images of both the Earth and the moon as seen from space. NASA recently shared these images with the public.

Lucy is visiting the asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter to learn about the formation of the solar system, but it's a long journey to reach there. The spacecraft was launched in October 2021, and it is taking a complex path around the solar system to reach the asteroids over the course of 12 years. As part of this journey, Lucy swung back around Earth to get a gravity boost to help carry it on its way.

Read more
X-ray data from Chandra gives a new view of Webb’s first images
X-rays from Chandra have been combined with infrared data from early publicly-released James Webb Space Telescope images.

This week has been a fun time for telescope team-ups, with a recent project combining data from the James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes. There's also a second set of images that has been released that combines data from the James Webb Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The Chandra observatory, which is also a space-based telescope, looks in the X-ray wavelength to investigate phenomena like epic kilonova explosions, search for the universe's missing matter, and capture stunning images of the universe as seen in X-ray observations. It has even been used to detect a possible exoplanet in the Whirlpool galaxy. Now, it has turned its sights on the targets of James Webb's first images to show these now-famous objects in a new light.

Read more
NASA’s Juno spacecraft shares first image from Jupiter moon flyby
Jupiter's Europa moon captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft.

After beaming back images from its flyby of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, as well as stunning images of Jupiter itself, NASA’s Juno spacecraft this week did the same for another of the planet’s moons: Europa.

And the early results do no disappoint.

Read more