The European and Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft took the closest measurements till now of Mercury’s magnetic field over the planet’s southern hemisphere.
Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are currently analyzing data that will help the BepiColombo mission’s first little boost to reveal the secrets of the solar system’s smallest planet.
The flyby, which took place on Friday (October 1), was actually meant to slow down BepiColombo while it was going around the sun with the help of Mercury’s gravity. Five more such flybys are necessary before the spacecraft can go to orbit around the planet in 2025.
Three Cameras on one of the modules of the spacecraft took photos of the planet during the flyby, and the photos were released as a documentary on Monday (Oct. 4). BepiColombo’s first view of the planet is taken around 53 pictures that are obtained from distances of around 620 to 57,800 miles.
BepiColombo neared Mercury’s surface at a distance of 120 miles during the flyby, which is closer than its usual orbit around the planet of 300 to 930 miles. The closest approach. Anyhow, it occurred at night and cameras were not able to capture it.
BepiColombo is made up of two parts that will go separate ways around the Mercury. The ESA built Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the JAXA built Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), both of them are going to orbit Mercury on a spacecraft. However, this setup conceals the parts of the equipment used for this mission. Mostly the cameras on MPO, reduce the research to be done during flybys.
The black and white cameras that were used during the flyby were actually designed to track the movement of the spacecraft’s solar panels after its launch in 2018. The resolution of these pictures is 1024 × 1024 pixels, but they do not show a clear image of the Mercury’s surface.
There are tiny holes called Hollows on the surface of Mercury which was discovered earlier. According to the scientists, these hollows look fresh and might be because of the material that is being evaporated from within the planet. The BepiColombo crew is going to start where the last mission left off. However, the research has to be postponed until pictures from the high-resolution cameras are received.
The researchers are currently analyzing data from BepiColombo’s magnetometer, which might give us new information about the planet’s magnetic field. Mercury’s magnetic field was discovered by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft during three Mercury flybys in the 1970s, which helped in getting the first-ever closest photographs of the planet.
Because of Mercury’s tiny size, scientists did not expect it to have a magnetic field at all. Only Earth has a strong magnetic field, which protects it from the radiation in space in the inner solar system’s four planets.
The flyby offered the first chance to explore how the spacecraft will perform in difficult situations which will be faced by the two orbiters over the mission. During the mission, MPO is expected to survive temperatures of up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit, or 450 degrees Celsius, this temperature can even melt lead. Because of the high temperature, some equipment that is normally expected to work in the cruise mode was not allowed to measure because the scientists were worried about the heat.