Solar Orbiter captures the glow of Venus as it passes close to the hottest planet in our solar system


Images of Venus captured by the Solar Orbiter heliospheric imager aboard the ESA / NASA Solar Orbiter. Credit: ESA / NASA / NRL / SoloHI / Phillip Hess

On August 9, 2021, ESA /">NasaThe Solar Orbiter spacecraft has passed within 4,967 miles (7,995 kilometers) of the planet’s surface ">Venus. In the days leading up to the approach, the Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager, or SoloHI, captured this sparkling view of the planet.

The images show Venus approaching from the left while the Sun is off camera in the upper right. The night side of the planet, the hidden part of the Sun, appears as a dark semicircle surrounded by a brilliant crescent of light – the glare of the incredibly bright side of Venus.

“Ideally, we could have solved some characteristics of the night side of the planet, but there was just too much signal on the day side. “Said Phillip Hess, astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC” Only a glow of daylight appears in the images, but it reflects enough sunlight to cause the bright crescent and diffracted rays that appear to be coming from the surface. “

Two bright stars are also visible in the background at the start of the sequence, before being eclipsed by the planet. The far right 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 constellation Taurus.

This was Solar Orbiter’s second Venus flyby, with an Earth flyby in November 2021 and six more Venus flyovers planned from 2022 to 2030. The spacecraft uses Venus’s gravity to move it closer to the Sun and tilt its orbit, thus swaying it as to “looking down” on the Sun. From this point of view, Solar Orbiter will eventually capture the first images of the north and south poles of the Sun.

On August 10, a day later, ESA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s BepiColombo mission also flew over Venus. Learn more about the double flyby and see images of BepiColombo in ESA’s coverage of the event.


Arline J. Mercier

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