ESA and JAXA release Mercury eyecandy, courtesy of spacecraft BepiColumbo

Fourth of nine scheduled planetary assists completed as spacecraft inches closer to releasing its orbiters

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) joint mission BepiColombo sent back its first photos of Mercury on Friday as it completed the fourth of nine planetary flybys enroute to study the solar system's smallest and innermost planet.

The spacecraft passed a mere 199km from Mercury's surface as it received a gravity assist. Once it reached a feasible distance away for photos (1,000km), it snapped and transmitted back to Earth 1,024 x 1,024 black and white images of the cratered celestial body photobombed by the transfer module's antennas and magnetometer boom.

The pièce de résistance tweeted by the mission took place at an altitude of 2,418km at 23:44 UTC. It depicts the planet's northern hemisphere, including previously lava-flooded plain Sihtu Planitia and the Rudaki Plains that surround the Calvino crater. Viewers can also see the illuminated 166km-wide Lermontov crater, a geographical feature full of what ESA calls "hollows" where volatile elements escape to space making the area on the image appear bright.

BepiColombo launched in 2018 for a seven-year cruise and is named for Italian scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, the man who first proposed the now common interplanetary gravity assist manoeuvre on which the craft relies. So far in its journey BepiColombo has completed one Earth and two Venus flybys in addition to the Mercury flyby that took place Friday.

The remaining five Mercury flybys will position the spacecraft to release its two science orbiters in December 2025.

At that point, ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will separate from their carrier, the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), and study the planet in separate orbits for one year, or longer if extended, to understand the planet's core and surface processes, magnetic field, and exosphere.

Scientists also hope to verify if there is water in some of the craters near the poles as they never see sunlight.

As the only planet aside from Earth with a global magnetic field and the closest planet to its parent star, Mercury is of great interest to space boffins and BepiColombo is certainly not the first attempt to understand the planet.

Mariner 10 had three flybys in 1974, but documented only 45 per cent of Mercury's surface. It's a tough object to study given that half of the atmosphere-less planet faces the sun reaching 430°C while the dark side keeps extremely cold temperatures of -185°C.

While flybys have occurred, to study the planet in this case really does require the slingshotting brainchild of the spacecraft's namesake which is assisted by the solar-electric propulsion of its ion thrusters. The strong gravitational pull from the Sun makes direct approaches to Mercury tricky – the amount of fuel required to complete a necessary braking manoeuvre wouldn't fit on the spacecraft.

For those anxiously awaiting the flyby, ESA kindly put out a 36-song playlist full of positive affirmations and planetary references, complete with one Queen/Freddy Mercury tune, thereby narrowly dodging a missed opportunity. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • DigitalOcean tries to take sting out of price hike with $4 VM
    Cloud biz says it is reacting to customer mix largely shifting from lone devs to SMEs

    DigitalOcean attempted to lessen the sting of higher prices this week by announcing a cut-rate instance aimed at developers and hobbyists.

    The $4-a-month droplet — what the infrastructure-as-a-service outfit calls its virtual machines — pairs a single virtual CPU with 512 MB of memory, 10 GB of SSD storage, and 500 GB a month in network bandwidth.

    The launch comes as DigitalOcean plans a sweeping price hike across much of its product portfolio, effective July 1. On the low-end, most instances will see pricing increase between $1 and $16 a month, but on the high-end, some products will see increases of as much as $120 in the case of DigitalOceans’ top-tier storage-optimized virtual machines.

    Continue reading
  • GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims
    Fine-print crucially deemed contractual agreement as well as copyright license in smartTV source-code case

    The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has won a significant legal victory in its ongoing effort to force Vizio to publish the source code of its SmartCast TV software, which is said to contain GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 copyleft-licensed components.

    SFC sued Vizio, claiming it was in breach of contract by failing to obey the terms of the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses that require source code to be made public when certain conditions are met, and sought declaratory relief on behalf of Vizio TV owners. SFC wanted its breach-of-contract arguments to be heard by the Orange County Superior Court in California, though Vizio kicked the matter up to the district court level in central California where it hoped to avoid the contract issue and defend its corner using just federal copyright law.

    On Friday, Federal District Judge Josephine Staton sided with SFC and granted its motion to send its lawsuit back to superior court. To do so, Judge Staton had to decide whether or not the federal Copyright Act preempted the SFC's breach-of-contract allegations; in the end, she decided it didn't.

    Continue reading
  • US brings first-of-its-kind criminal charges of Bitcoin-based sanctions-busting
    Citizen allegedly moved $10m-plus in BTC into banned nation

    US prosecutors have accused an American citizen of illegally funneling more than $10 million in Bitcoin into an economically sanctioned country.

    It's said the resulting criminal charges of sanctions busting through the use of cryptocurrency are the first of their kind to be brought in the US.

    Under the United States' International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEA), it is illegal for a citizen or institution within the US to transfer funds, directly or indirectly, to a sanctioned country, such as Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or Russia. If there is evidence the IEEA was willfully violated, a criminal case should follow. If an individual or financial exchange was unwittingly involved in evading sanctions, they may be subject to civil action. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022