Stunning close-up of Mercury captured by European-Japanese BepiColombo

The BepiColombo mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) captured this beautiful image of Mercury’s crater-marked surface as the spacecraft flew close to the planet for a gravity assist manoeuvre.

The picture of Mercury’s rich geological landscapes was taken on June 23 by the Mercury Transfer Module’s Monitoring Camera 2 when the spacecraft was within 920 kilometres from the surface of the planet that is closest to the sun. The closest approach took place about five minutes before the image was taken when the spacecraft was about 200 kilometres from the surface.

Even though the camera provided black-and-white images with a resolution of 1024 x 1024, the image was interpolated to 2048 x 2048 pixels to “sharpen the details”. Some parts of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter can be seen in the image: The magnetometer boom running from bottom left to top right, and a small part of the medium-gain antenna at bottom-right of the image.

An annotated image provide by ESA. (Image credit: ESA)

Interestingly, the lighting conditions in the image are different to any recorded by NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury. This enhances the differences between smooth terrains and older rough terrains. Large impact craters, like the 200km-wide multi-ringed basin partly hidden by the magnetometer boom, are also clearly visible along with other geological features.

A prominent sunlight scarp runs from the bottom of the image towards the magnetometer boom. It is about 200 kilometres long, but only 170 kilometres can be seen in this image. It stands 2 kilometres high and is part of Mercury’s global pattern of geologic faults. It was assigned the name of “Challenger Rupes” earlier this month.

The smooth plains on the right of Challenger Rupes in the image are called “Cahuilla Planum”. There is another eye-catching crater towards the top-right of the image: the 130-kilometre-wide Eminescu crater, with a bright central peak feature catching the sunlight from the angle of the spacecraft. This will be a particularly interesting crater as it contains “hollows,” a geological feature unique to Mercury.

Izquierdo is a 170-kilometre-wide crater named after 20th-century Mexican painter María Izquierdo. The floor of the impact basin is small because it has been partially filled with volcanic lava. Its floor also has rims of “ghost craters,” which are smaller, older craters that have been buried by the lava that filled the basin

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