A joint European-Japanese spacecraft got its first glimpse of Mercury as it swung by the solar system’s innermost planet on a mission to deliver two probes into orbit in 2025.
The BepiColombo mission made the first of six flybys of Mercury on Friday at 11:34 a.m. GMT (7:34 a.m. EST), using the planet’s gravity to slow the spacecraft.
After swooping past Mercury at an altitude of less than 200 kilometers (125 miles), the spacecraft took a low-resolution black-and-white photo with one of its surveillance cameras before zipping back up again.
The European Space Agency said the captured image shows typical pock-marked features of the Northern Hemisphere and Mercury, among them the 166-kilometer-wide (103-mile-wide) Lermontov crater.
The joint mission by the European Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency was launched in 2018, flying twice past Earth and twice past Venus on a trip to the smallest planet in the Solar System.
Five more flybys are needed before BepiColombo slows sufficiently to leave ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The two probes will study Mercury’s core and processes on its surface, as well as its magnetic field.
The mission is named after Italian scientist Giuseppe ‘Beppi’ Colombo, who is credited with helping develop the gravity assist maneuver, which NASA’s Mariner 10 first used when it flew to Mercury in 1974. did.