Berlin, Oct. 3 (BUS) – A joint European-Japanese spacecraft got its first glimpse of Mercury teetering near the innermost planet of the solar system while on a mission to deliver two probes into orbit in 2025.
The BepiColombo mission made the first of six flights on Mercury at 11:34 p.m. GMT (7:34 p.m. EDT) Friday, using the planet’s gravity to slow the spacecraft.
After passing Mercury at altitudes of less than 200 kilometers (125 miles), the spacecraft captured a low-resolution black-and-white image with one of its surveillance cameras before blasting off again, the Associated Press reports.
The European Space Agency said that the image taken shows the distinctive features of the Northern Hemisphere and Mercury, among them the 166-kilometre-wide (103-mile-wide) Lermontov Crater.
The joint mission between the European Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency was launched in 2018, and has flown once over Earth and twice over Venus on its journey to the smallest planet in the solar system.
Five more flights are needed before BepiColombo can be slowed down enough to launch JAXA’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 “Pepe” Colombo, who is credited with helping develop the gravity-assist maneuver first used by NASA Mariner 10 when it flew into Mercury in 1974.