- Jonathan Amos
- BBC science reporter
The BepiColombo mission has sent its first image of Mercury, the innermost planet in the Solar System.
The probe captured the image shortly after it flew over the small planet at an altitude of only 200 km.
The controllers are planning five more bridges, and they want to increasingly use Mercury’s gravity to help control the spacecraft’s speed.
The goal is for BepiColombo to move slowly enough to eventually assume a stable orbit around the planet.
This goal is expected to be achieved by the end of 2025.
The mission’s first image to Mercury was captured by a low-resolution observation camera located on the side of the probe. At the present stage, Bepi is not yet ready to deploy and use its high-resolution scientific cameras – these devices are “hidden” inside the spacecraft’s chassis.
Bepi are basically two spacecraft in one.
The first part was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The second comes from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa). The way these two components were “packed” for the flight to Mercury hampers, for the time being, the openings through which the main cameras operate.
This means that the first images of the Mercury mission were obtained by a pair of surveillance cameras or engineering cameras installed on the ship’s exterior – such as “selfie cameras” – and are good enough to actually detect some of them. surface.
These simple black and white images began appearing on Earth on Saturday (2/10), and the European Space Agency is expected to release new images within the first few days of October. On Monday (4/10), the European Agency will likely have enough footage to shoot a short video.
Although Bepi is still far from initiating proper scientific operations, some of the probe’s instruments have been commissioned to implement the flyover. Phenomena such as magnetic fields and some particles can already be detected, even in the spacecraft’s current configuration.
“We will analyze the data,” said Susie Ember, a researcher at the University of Leicester, UK, but the goal of the current bridge, and the other six that will be implemented, is to help us change course. [da espaçonave] and slows down.
Said the scientist who integrates the mission to the BBC.
But, even at this early stage of the flyover series, it is already possible to do raw data collection.
For the scientists behind the UK’s X-ray Imaging Spectrometer, or MIXS, this was an opportunity to better understand the performance of their instrument.
The MIXS detectors picked up general noises from energetic particles known as cosmic rays.
“As we get so close to Mercury and the planet blocks part of the sky, we should have a reduction in some of this noise that we’re receiving, and that will help us better determine what these galactic cosmic rays we’re detecting are,” he explained. Ember.
The exercise will ensure that the mission team gets the most out of MIXS when they eventually begin observing the planet at the end of the decade.
This first bridge would have set Bibi on 2-3 resonance with Mercury. In other words, this means that Mercury will revolve around the Sun three times, while Pepi will revolve around the Sun twice.
It should be noted here that one Mercury year, or the time it takes to make a complete circle around the Sun, is equivalent to 88 Earth days.
The upcoming bridge, scheduled for June next year, will slow that rate again. It will then have a 3-4 resonance: Bibi will complete three revolutions around the Sun, while Mercury will make this path four times.
The remaining flybys, which will take place in June 2023, September 2024, December 2024 and January 2025, should finally put Bibi on the same echo as Mercury. Thus, it will be possible to start full scientific operations from 2026.
What investigations will BepiColombo conduct on Mercury?
The hulls of the two spacecraft, developed by the Europeans and Japanese, will separate when they enter orbit on the planet closest to the sun. From there, they will perform different functions.
The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) in Europe is designed to map Mercury’s terrain, create surface elevation profiles, collect data about the planet’s structure and composition, and discover what’s inside.
The Japanese Mercury Magnetomagnetic Orbiter (MMO) will prioritize studying Mercury’s magnetic field. He will investigate the behavior of the field and its interaction with the “solar wind,” the undulating mass of particles that flow from the sun. These winds interact with Mercury’s atmosphere, spewing out atoms in a tail that extends through space.
It is hoped that parallel observations from satellites will finally solve many mysteries about this planet.
One major issue concerns the massive iron core, which accounts for 60% of Mercury’s mass. Science is still unable to explain the reasons for the existence of a thin layer of rock on this planet.
“When we go into orbit, we’ll start studying the magnetic field and the surface of Mercury, which reaches temperatures of 450 degrees Celsius (the equivalent of a pizza oven), and still has surface water in places,” Mark says. McGreen, ESA’s senior adviser for science and exploration, told BBC News.
“Mercury has a huge metallic core. It’s much denser than expected for its size. We don’t understand how this planet got what it is. There are huge mysteries about its origin and that’s what BepiColombo intends to do with a study,” the researcher continues.
MPO, from Europe, is assembled largely in the United Kingdom, by Airbus.
You have seen our new videos on Youtube? Subscribe to our channel!
“Friendly zombie guru. Avid pop culture scholar. Freelance travel geek. Wannabe troublemaker. Coffee specialist.”