Mercury looks stunning in its first flyby photo. The European-Japanese joint spacecraft BepiColombo, named for Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, flew by Mercury late on Oct. 1. It took a snap of Mercury as it zoomed by on the first of 6 flybys. According to Space.com, BepiColombo will eventually slow itself enough using Mercury’s gravity to enter the planet’s orbit by 2025.
The probe was about 1,502 miles away from the planet when it snapped its pic, a black and white image of the pockmarked surface of Mercury. The European Space Agency posted the photo with explanations of Mercury’s different craters and quadrants.
“The region shown is part of Mercury’s northern hemisphere including Sihtu Planitia that has been flooded by lavas,” the Agency wrote on their website. “A round area smoother and brighter than its surroundings characterizes the plains around the Calvino crater, which are called the Rudaki Plains.”
The probe carried ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. Both orbiters will do what it says on the tin; eventually, they’ll start orbiting and exploring Mercury once the probe gets close enough.
The probe launched in 2018 for its 7-year mission, flying past Earth once and Venus twice before approaching Mercury.
More Than Mercury: NASA Aims to Explore Jupiter’s Asteroids
In a statement, NASA stated that Lucy is going to do something unique from other probes. “Lucy’s path will circle back to Earth three times for gravity assists,” said NASA, “making it the first spacecraft ever to return to the vicinity of Earth from the outer solar system.”
There are more than 4,800 Trojan asteroids in two clusters in front and behind Jupiter. Trojan asteroids are classified as small celestial bodies that orbit a large celestial body. They orbit at its leading (L4) and trailing (L5) points.
The Lucy mission will take 12 years, and was named for the fossilized pre-human found in Ethiopia in 1974, who gave vital insights into human evolution. NASA predicts that the Trojan asteroids will give similar vital information on the creation of the outer planets. According to NASA, Lucy is the first probe to make such a diverse trip around the solar system. It will visit 8 different asteroids: one in the main belt, and 7 Trojans. It will visit both clusters, or “camps” as they’re known, named after the Trojans and Greeks from the Iliad.
Lucy’s path looks like a little loop-de-loop through the clusters; it jets off from Earth, orbiting the Sun, and then traveling through the L4 cluster before passing by Earth and around the Sun again. It then travels through the L5 cluster, before trailing off and, supposedly, dying, having fulfilled it’s mission.