Mercury is a planet that's always been a mystery. Recently, two spacecraft have flown and came so close to the planet.
A European-Japanese joint science mission to study Mercury, BepoColombo, is back on track and will orbit and observe the planet in 2025.
The whole journey involved two research spacecraft that rode a massive vessel called the Mercury Transfer Module.
The spacecraft just wrapped up its first flyby of the cratered planet on Oct.1. It sent back Mercury images. The black and white images showed 620 miles to 1,500 miles of the planet's surface, according to Mashable.
Valentina Galluzzi, a scientist, working on the BepiColombo mission, said in a statement that the whole scenario was an "incredible feeling," especially after they got images of the planet.
The pictures show the instruments on the transfer module in the foreground. Meanwhile, the detailed topography of the planet's surface is in the background. The Mercury Transfer Module transports the mission's two orbiters to the planet.
Once BepiColombo begins orbiting the planet in 2025, after several flybys fall into its orbit, the probes will begin researching the planet's history, according to Space.com.
The European Space Agency stated that the mission will map the surface of the planet and will analyze its composition to know more about its formation.
One theory is that the planet may have started as a massive body that was stripped of most of its rocks by an impact. This resulted in a huge iron core, where the magnetic field is generated and only a very thin rocky outer shell left.
The outer shell is covered in lava flows that date back centuries ago, and asteroids and comets have pummeled it for 4 billion years. The next flyby, including pictures, will happen on June 2022.
The BepiColomobo Mission
BepiColomobo launched in 2018 and is made up of two orbiters. One orbiter is the European Space Agency or ESA, and the other orbiter is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA. The spacecraft will fly in complementary orbits around Mercury.
The spacecraft includes the Mercury Planetary Orbiter that the ESA leads, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, which JAXA leads, according to BBC.
The two will study all aspects of Mercury, from its core to its surface processes, its exosphere, and its magnetic field.
The mission aims to understand the origin of the planet, the processes that are at work, and its evolution as it is the planet closest to the sun.
Travelling the 67 million miles to enter orbit around the planet is not as easy because it requires several flybys to speed up or to slow down for the sake of orbital insertion.
Gravitational flybys also need very fast and precise deep-space navigation work, as this ensures that the spacecraft is on the right approach trajectory.
A week after BepiColombo's last flyby at Venus on Aug. 10, a correction maneuver was made to nudge the spacecraft a bit before it flew by Mercury.
Scientists hope that it can pass close to the planet, just 124 miles from its surface.
As BepiColomobo is 60 million miles away from Earth, it will take 350 seconds before the light can reach it. Elsa Montagnon, the operations manager from ESA, said that the ground stations they have are the only reason they know where their spacecraft is.
Related Article: ESA's BepiColombo Mission To Explore Mysteries Of Mercury
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Written by Sophie Webster