Ride onboard a flyby of Venus! Solar Orbiter captures gleaming view of the hellish world after passing within 4,967 miles of its surface (just a day after BepiColombo spacecraft also sent back images)
- Solar Orbiter flew by Venus on Monday, coming within 5,000 miles of the planet
- BepiColombo also flew by on August 10, around 340 miles from Venus surface
- They are both heading to the inner solar system, using Venus for gravity assist
- Even though both have flown within a few thousand miles of Venus and just a day apart, they are separated by over 350,000 miles of open space
The European Space Agency Solar Orbiter probe has sent back footage of Venus two days after passing less than 5,000 miles from the surface of the hellish world.
Both the Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo probes operated by ESA made a flyby of Venus this week, in a bid to use its gravity for a speed boost to their final destination.
Solar Orbiter is on its way to the sun, and while passing Venus turned its Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) telescope to capture a gleaming view of the planet.
The video and images show Venus approaching from the left while the sun is off camera to the upper right, with the nightside of the planet part hidden from view.
Like the ESA BepiColombo images published yesterday, they are in black and white with minimal detail as the cameras weren’t designed for use on Venus.
The double flyby offers ESA astronomers a chance to study Earth’s sister-planet Venus from different locations at the same time, and places rarely visited by probes.
The European Space Agency Solar Orbiter probe has sent back footage and images of Venus two days after passing less than 5,000 miles from the surface of the hellish world
Both the Solar Orbiter (artist impression) and BepiColombo probes operated by ESA made a flyby of Venus this week, in a bid to use its gravity for a speed boost to their final destination.
VENUS: THE BASICS
Venus, the second planet from the sun, is a rocky planet about the same size and mass of the Earth.
However, its atmosphere is radically different to ours – being 96 per cent carbon dioxide and having a surface temperature of 867°F (464°C) and pressure 92 times that of on the Earth.
The inhospitable planet is swaddled in clouds of sulphuric acid that make the surface impossible to glimpse via the visible light spectrum.
In the past, Venus likely had oceans similar to Earth’s – but these would have vaporised as it underwent a runaway greenhouse effect.
The surface of Venus is a dry desertscape, which is periodically changed by volcanic activity.
The planet has no moons and orbits the Sun every 224.7 Earth days.
The planet’s nightside, the part hidden from the sun, appears as a dark semicircle surrounded by a bright crescent of light, which is glare from the Venus sunlit side.
‘Ideally, we would have been able to resolve some features on the nightside of the planet, but there was just too much signal from the dayside.’ said Phillip Hess, astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC
‘Only a sliver of the dayside appears in the images, but it reflects enough sunlight to cause the bright crescent and the diffracted rays that come from the surface.’
Two bright stars are also visible in the background early in the sequence, before being eclipsed by the planet.
The rightmost is Omicron Tauri, and above and to the left of it is Xi Tauri, which is actually a quadruple star system. Both are part of the Taurus constellation.
This was Solar Orbiter’s second Venus flyby, with an Earth flyby in November 2021 and six more Venus flybys planned from 2022 to 2030.
The spacecraft uses Venus’ gravity to draw it closer to the Sun and tilt its orbit, swinging it up and out so as to ‘look down’ on the Sun.
From this vantage point, Solar Orbiter will eventually capture the first images of the sun’s north and south poles.
Solar Orbiter is on its way to study the polar regions of the sun in a bid to better understand its 11-year cycle, as well as capture the polar regions.
It made its approach to Venus at 05:42 BST, ESA said, coming within 4,967 of the planet. That was just 33 hours before the BepiColombo fly-by of Venus.
ESA said it wasn’t possible to take high-resolution imagery of Venus with the science cameras onboard either mission, so what is shared would be low-resolution.
Solar Orbiter must remain facing the sun, and the main camera onboard BepiColombo is shielded by the transfer module that will deliver the two planetary orbiters to Mercury, according to ESA officials.
Despite reaching Venus second, the pictures from BepiColombo came back first, s the Solar Oribiter had to wait until it had moved further from the planet to take its images and then send them back to the Earth.
Solar Orbiter has been acquiring data near-constantly since launch in February 2020 with its four instruments that measure the environment around the spacecraft itself.
The planet’s nightside, the part hidden from the sun, appears as a dark semicircle surrounded by a bright crescent of light, which is glare from the Venus sunlit side
Both the Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo are using the gravitational pull of Venus to help them drop a little bit of orbital energy to reach their destinations at the centre of the solar system
HOW WILL BEPICOLOMBO GET TO MERCURY?
BepiColombo’s two orbiters, Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter and the ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter, will be carried together.
The carrier will use electric propulsion and gravity-assists at Earth, Venus and Mercury in its 7.2 year journey.
Once at Mercury, they will separate and move into their own orbits to make complementary measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere.
The information will tell us more about the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star, providing a better understanding of the overall evolution of our own Solar System.
BepiColombo features three components that will separate:
Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) for propulsion, built by the European Space Agency (ESA)
Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) built by ESA
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) or MIO built by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Both Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter collected data on the magnetic and plasma environment of Venus from different locations around the planet.
JAXA’s Akatsuki spacecraft is already in orbit around Venus, creating a unique constellation of datapoints on the mysterious hot world.
It will take many months to collate the coordinated flyby measurements and analyse them in a meaningful way, so information won’t be available straight away, ESA explained.
The data collected during the flybys will also provide useful inputs to ESA’s future Venus orbiter, EnVision, which will launch to the planet in the 2030s.
Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo both have one more flyby of Venus this year.
BepiColombo will see Mercury for the first time overnight on October 1, making its first of six flybys of Mercury – with this one from just just over 100 miles.
The two planetary orbiters will be delivered into Mercury orbit in late 2025, tasked with studying all aspects of this mysterious inner planet.
This includes its core to surface processes, magnetic field, and exosphere, to better understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star.
On November 27, Solar Orbiter will make a final flyby of Earth, coming just under 300 miles from the surface, kicking off the start of its main mission.
It will continue to make regular flybys of Venus to progressively increase its orbit inclination to best observe the sun’s uncharted polar regions.
Solar scientists say understanding and imaging the polar regions of our star is key to understanding its 11 year activity cycle.
Both NASA and the European Space Agency are sending spacecraft to study Venus in more detail in the 2030s, where they will explore how it became so different to the Earth, despite having a similar origin.
ESA’S SOLAR ORBITER: THE BRITISH BUILT SPACECRAFT WILL BE THE FIRST TO CAPTURE IMAGES OF THE SUN’S POLAR REGIONS
Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission with support from NASA to explore the Sun and effect our host star has on the solar system – including Earth.
Solar Orbiter (artist’s impression) is a European Space Agency mission to explore the sun and its effect on the solar system. Its launch is planned for 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA
The satellite launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in February 2020 and reached its first close approach to the Sun in June 2020.
It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments.
Solar Orbiter will fly within 26 million miles (43 million km) of the solar surface to closely inspect our star’s poles.
Scientists are investigating how the sun’s violent outer atmosphere, also known as its corona, forms.
It was built in Stevenage, England and is loaded with a carefully selected set of 10 telescopes and direct sensing instruments
This is the region from which ‘solar wind’ – storms of charged particles that can disrupt electronics on Earth – are blown out into space.
Through Solar Orbiter, researchers hope to unravel what triggers solar storms to help better predict them in future.
The Solar Orbiter’s heat shields are expected to reach temperatures of up to 600C (1,112F) during its closest flybys.
It will work closely with Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in August 2018, and is also studying the sun’s corona.
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