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BepiColombo Spacecraft Makes Second Gravity Assist of Planet Mercury

BepiColombo , an ESA/JAXA mission, has completed its second gravity assist of Mercury, taking fresh close-up pictures as it approaches Mercury orbit in 2025. On June 23, 2022, at 09:44 UTC (11:44 CEST), a spacecraft made its closest approach to Earth at a distance of around 200 km (124 miles). Throughout the encounter, the three monitoring cameras (MCAM) of the spacecraft took pictures and collected scientific data from a variety of equipment.

Emanuela Bordoni, BepiColombo Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager for the European Space Agency, reports that the spacecraft has completed the second of its six Mercury flybys and will return at this time next year for its third flyby before entering Mercury orbit in 2025. The first photos of lighted Mercury were obtained roughly five minutes after close approach, at a distance of about 800 km, because BepiColombo closest approach occurred on the planet’s nightside. After the near encounter, pictures were shot for roughly 40 minutes while the spacecraft continued to move away from the planet.

The Sun seemed to rise over the planet’s cratered surface as BepiColombo moved from the nightside to the dayside, creating shadows along the terminator, the line separating day and night, and dramatically emphasising the structure of the landscape. Smooth volcanic plains fill the 125 km (78 miles) broad crater known as Heaney. It features a unique instance of a potential volcano on Mercury, making it a significant target for high-resolution imaging package once in orbit.

The 1550 km (960 miles) wide Caloris basin, Mercury’s greatest impact feature, came into view for the first time only a few minutes after closest approach and with the Sun blazing from above. Its highly reflecting lavas on its bottom made it stand out against the darker backdrop. BepiColombo is working hard to measure and understand the compositional variations between the volcanic lavas in and around Caloris, which are considered to have formed around 100 million years after the basin itself.

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