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

The BepiColombo mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) captured this beautiful image of Mercury’s crater-marked surface as the spacecraft flew closer to the planet with a gravity-assisted 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 kilometers from the surface of the planet that is closest to the sun. The closest approach took about five minutes before the image was taken when the spacecraft was about 200 kilometers 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 the bottom left to the top right, and a small portion of the medium-gain antenna at the bottom-right of the image.

An annotated image provided 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 clearly hidden by the magnetometer boom, are also clearly visible along with other geological features.

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

The smooth plains on the right of the Challenger Rupes in the image are called “Cahuilla Planum”. There is another eye-catching crater towards the top-right of the image: the 130-kilometer-wide Eminescu crater, with a bright central peak capturing 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-kilometer-wide crater named after the 20th-century Mexican painter María Izquierdo. The floor of the impact basin is small because it is 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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