A European-Japanese spacecraft just flew through Venus on its long, winding road to Mercury, capturing several star sights on the road.
BepiColombo was launched in October 2018 and is scheduled to arrive at Mercury in 2025. But to get there, it must first complete a series of nine gravity-assist flybys — one on Earth, two on Venus and six on Mercury — before eventually entering the orbit around the innermost planet of the solar system. These carefully planned loops will guide and propel the craft to ensure that it rises to its intended destination.
Earth-zoomed BepiColombo on April 10 and cruised past Venus for the first time at 11:58 pm EDT on October 14 (0358 GMT on October 15).
Related: The BepiColombo spacecraft is evolving into Venus on the long road to Mercury
As the BepiColombo rotates within just 6,660 miles (10,720 kilometers) of the planet, the three cameras aboard the probe’s Mercury Transfer Module capture some amazing images. The camera is activated 20 hours before the nearest probe approach and operates for up to 15 minutes after the encounter.
In the images, brought together in a time-lapse video, Venus first appears like a small white disc and then grows larger as the ship approaches the hot planet. The bright white face of the planet is only obstructed by the extended limbs of the Mercury-dependent probe, which will complete another aid to the gravity of the planet before moving to its very destination.
“With each completed flyby, we take a step closer to answering some of the confusing questions about the mysterious planet Mercury,” European Space Agency BepiColombo Project Scientist Johannes Benkhoff said in an ESA statement. “Learning more about Mercury will shed light on the history of the entire solar system, helping us better understand our own place in space.”
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