Mercury-bound probe flies by Venus

Space Science

The surface of Mercury, as photographed by the Mariner 10 craft, circa 1974. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

MYSTERY WIRE — On August 10, at 13:57 p.m. GMT, the European-Japanese BepiColombo probe flew by very close to the planet’s cloudy atmosphere.

It’s the second time that BepiColombo captured images of Venus.

It first photographed it in October 2020 at a distance of 10,700 km (6,650 miles), but this was its closest encounter, less than 570 km (350 miles) away.

The cameras which captured Venus were intended to monitor the solar arrays of the probe.

These fly-bys have a technical purpose: to adjust its speed and trajectory in order to reach its final destination — Mercury.

BepiColombo will have a first glimpse of the smallest planet of the Solar system on October 1 2021, before flying by the planet six times.

The mission was launched in 2018 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Its goal will be to study the structure of Mercury and its magnetic field.

Seven years will be needed for the probe to reach the planet, with an arrival planned in December 2025.

When it arrives, BepiColombo will release two probes – Bepi and Mio – that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury.

The probes are designed to cope with temperatures varying from 430 degrees Celsius (806 F) on the side facing the sun, and -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in Mercury’s shadow.

The ESA-developed Bepi will operate in Mercury’s inner orbit, JAXA’s Mio will be in the outer orbit to gather data that would reveal the internal structure of the planet, its surface and geological evolution.

Scientists hope to build on the insights gained by NASA’s Messenger probe, which ended its mission in 2015 after a four-year orbit of Mercury.

The only other spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA’s Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s.

Mercury, which is only slightly larger than Earth’s moon, has a massive iron core about which little is known.

Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo mission.

The mission is named after Italian professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, a mathematician and engineer from Italy’s University of Padua.

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