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Mercury Shows Off in Spectacular New Spacecraft View

BepiColombo took a flyby of the closest planet to the sun.

A black-and-white image of Mercury shows many craters and parts for the BepiColombo spacecraft.
Craters are a signature look for Mercury in this June 23, 2022, image from the BepiColombo spacecraft.
ESA/BepiColombo/MTM

What's up, Mercury? The small, rocky planet that looks a lot like Earth's moon is the star of the show in a new image from the BepiColombo spacecraft. The explorer went in for a flyby on Thursday and sent back a beguiling new view of Mercury's crater-filled surface.

BepiColombo is a joint mission from the European Space Agency and Japanese space agency JAXA. The spacecraft's final destination is Mercury orbit, but it has to get there the long way through a series of flybys. This latest adventure was one of BepiColombo's "gravity assist maneuvers," a navigational move that will help it eventually settle into orbit at its host planet in 2025.

An annotated view of Mercury points out features like the Eminescu crater at the top right. It has a central peak that stands out.

ESA/BepiColombo/MTM

This was BepiColombo's second Mercury flyby out of six scheduled for that planet. The mission previously zipped by Venus and sent back some fascinating images in late 2020.

The new Mercury portrait comes from when the spacecraft was about 570 miles (920 kilometers) from Mercury's surface. It got even closer than that during the flyby, and more images will be coming later. The gear intruding into the image is part of the spacecraft. 

ESA also released an annotated version of the picture highlighting the names of craters and other notable geologic features. My personal favorite crater is Eminescu, which looks a bit like the pupil of an eye, thanks to the peak at its center.

Humans haven't sent very many space explorers to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. NASA's Mariner 10 took a look in the 1970s, and later NASA's Messenger went into orbit in 2011. 

BepiColombo will give scientists new views and data to work with as they seek to understand the planet's geology, atmosphere and history. Said ESA, "The lighting conditions in this image are different to any recorded by NASA's Messenger mission to Mercury for this region, enhancing the differences between smooth terrains and older rough terrains." Looking good there, Mercury.