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The Ariane 5 launch vehicle with the BepiColombo space probe on board is about to launch at the Kourou spaceport in 2018. Photo: Janne Kieselbach/picture alliance via Getty Images

A European-Japanese spacecraft has returned its first close-up pictures of Mercury in a long-awaited flyby.

Why it matters: The European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the BepiColombo mission to Mercury in 2018, and the two spacecraft should make it into orbit around the innermost planet in 2025.

Driving the news: The space probes made the first flyby of Mercury at 7:44 p.m. EST on Friday, passing within 124 miles of the planet to capture images of dozens of craters.

  • The region shown in photos Friday reveal Mercury's northern hemisphere, including Sihtu Planitia, which is flooded by lava, according to the European Space Agency.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

What's next: The next Mercury flyby is scheduled for June 20, 2022, which will be followed by four more flybys in June 2023, September and December 2024 and January 2025. The space probes are expected to enter orbit around Mercury on Dec. 5, 2025.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 14, 2021 - Science

A private mission to Venus

A filtered image of Venus as seen by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Photo: NASA/JPL

A privately funded mission to Venus expected to launch in 2023 could kick off a series of launches that could help reveal whether Earth's "evil twin" once hosted — or still hosts — life.

Why it matters: A controversial study published in 2020 suggests there might be phosphine — a possible sign of microbial life — in the clouds of Venus, bolstering the case to return to the world.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.