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Behold, first clear images of the least-explored planet in our solar system — Mercury. Its cratered surface can resemble Earth’s Moon.

According to The Verge these photos were taken during the BepiColombo mission, which is a European Space Agency (ESA)  x Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) team-up that was launched in 2018. The mission has two linked orbiting spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The rocket is going to reach the destination point: Mercury’s orbit in late 2025.

The core task of the BepiColombo mission is to collect as much information about Mercury’s deformation caused by our Sun as possible. Temperatures on Mercury can exceed 350 degrees Celsius, or about 660 degrees Fahrenheit.

ESA explains where the craters came from and what the surface of the planet is believed to be like:

One theory is that it may have begun as a larger body that was then stripped of most of its rock by a giant impact. This left it with a relatively large iron core, where its magnetic field is generated, and only a thin rocky outer shell.

Mercury has no equivalent to the ancient bright lunar highlands: its surface is dark almost everywhere, and was formed by vast outpourings of lava billions of years ago. These lava flows bear the scars of craters formed by asteroids and comets crashing onto the surface at speeds of tens of kilometers per hour. The floors of some of the older and larger craters have been flooded by younger lava flows, and there are also more than a hundred sites where volcanic explosions have ruptured the surface from below.

Why BepiColombo? The mission was named after the Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who helped develop the gravity assist procedure that the first spacecraft sent to Mercury, NASA’s Mariner 10, used in 1974. On Friday the rocket got to the first of six planned stops before it enters the planet’s orbit for closer study.  BepiColombo will also build on data collected by NASA’s Messenger mission, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015.

As the spacecraft get closer to Mercury, it will be able to take higher-res images. More images from Friday’s fly-by will be available in the coming days, ESA said.

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