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Mercury-bound spacecraft buzzes Earth, beams back pictures

Launched 1 1/2 years ago, Europe and Japan's BepiColombo spacecraft passed within 8,000 miles of Earth on Friday.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Mercury-bound spacecraft has swooped past Earth, tweaking its path to the solar system's innermost planet. 

Launched 1 1/2 years ago, Europe and Japan's BepiColombo spacecraft passed within 8,000 miles of Earth on Friday. 

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The gravity tug from Earth slowed the spacecraft and put it on a course closer to the sun. 

It was the first of nine planetary gravity assists — and the only one involving Earth — on the spacecraft's seven-year journey to Mercury. The spacecraft — which holds two orbiters — should reach Mercury in 2025. 

Before leaving Earth's vicinity forever, BepiColombo beamed back stunning pictures of the home planet.

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