A sequence of images taken by one of the MCAM selfie cameras on board of the European-Japanese Mercury mission BepiColombo as the spacecraft zoomed past the planet during its first and only Earth flyby.
Images in the sequence were taken in intervals of a few minutes from 03:03 UTC until 04:15 UTC on 10 April 2020, shortly before the closest approach. The distance to Earth diminished from around 26 700 km to 12 800 km during the time the sequence was captured.
In these images, Earth appears in the upper right corner, behind the spacecraft structure and its magnetometer boom, and moves slowly towards the upper left of the image, where the medium-gain antenna is also visible.
The manoeuvre, first of an overall nine flybys but the only one at Earth, helped steer the spacecraft towards Venus as it gradually closes in on its target orbit around Mercury. During its seven-year cruise to the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System, BepiColombo will twice use the gravity of Venus and six times that of Mercury to break against the gravitational pull of the Sun. This constant need to break requires either a lot of fuel or a complicated trajectory with many flybys, otherwise BepiColombo would not be able to enter the correct orbit around Mercury.
More information: BepiColombo takes last snaps of Earth en route to Mercury
Note: This animation was updated at 20:30 CEST on 10 April to include the full image sequence.