Recently, a series of captivating images taken by the BepiColombo mission‘s two satellites during their flyby of Mercury have revealed intriguing tectonic and volcanic features on the planet’s surface. The BepiColombo mission is a joint effort by the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
During the mission’s third gravity-assisted flyby, the satellites captured images from a distance of 236 kilometers (146 miles) above Mercury’s surface. The black-and-white photographs showcase various formations, including a large impact crater that has been newly named after Jamaican artist Edna Manley. Measuring approximately 218 kilometers (135 miles) wide, the crater piqued scientists’ interest due to the presence of dark “low reflectance material,” which may be remnants of Mercury’s early carbon-rich crust.
Additionally, the basin of the crater exhibits evidence of past volcanic activity, with smooth lava flooding the area. This lava indicates the planet’s extensive history of volcanic eruptions. BepiColombo will continue to monitor the crater from orbit, analyzing the carbon content and potential minerals within it.
The images also captured one of Mercury’s most remarkable geological features, known as a “lobate scarp.” This tectonic structure is believed to have formed as the planet cooled and contracted, causing the surface crust to wrinkle. The area surrounding the scarp reveals signs of volcanic activity, with volcanic lava inundating certain regions.
Valentina Galluzzi from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics describes the region as an exceptional area for studying Mercury’s tectonic history. The complex interplay of these escarpments offers insights into the planet’s cooling and contraction processes, which led to the formation of various intriguing features. Once in orbit, further investigations will delve into these captivating phenomena in more detail.
The BepiColombo mission will conduct another flyby of Mercury in September 2024, providing researchers with additional opportunities to study and unravel the mysteries of this enigmatic planet.
This upcoming flyby in September 2024 holds great promise for expanding our understanding of Mercury’s geological composition and dynamic history. Scientists eagerly anticipate the wealth of data that will be collected during this mission phase, as it will provide invaluable insights into the planet’s tectonic evolution and volcanic activity.
The BepiColombo mission, with its state-of-the-art instruments and cutting-edge technology, is poised to unlock further secrets of Mercury’s enigmatic past.