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Watch The Awesome Footage Of Two Spacecraft Whizzing Past Venus This Week


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 13 2021, 12:55 UTC
Artist's impression of BepiColombo on its flyby past Venus. Image credit: (C) ESA/ATG medialab

Artist's impression of BepiColombo on its flyby past Venus. Image credit: (C) ESA/ATG medialab

Spacecraft in our Solar System are apparently a lot like buses on Earth, you wait ages for one and along comes two at once. This week, not one but two spacecraft had a close and quick encounter with Venus thanks to scheduled flybys just 33 hours apart, and we now have the incredible footage from both.

Solar Orbiter, a European Space Agency (ESA) mission in collaboration with NASA, flew by on Monday, August 9 at just 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away. BepiColombo, a joint ESA-Japanese Space Agency Mission (JAXA) flew past the incredibly popular planet on Tuesday, August 10 at 552 kilometers (340 miles) away.


Neither mission has a focus on Venus, instead studying the Sun and Mercury, respectively, but the flybys were important to change their trajectories. They used Venus's gravity to help them get closer to the inner Solar System where their goals lie. It also gave the teams running the missions a chance to take some scientific measurements of Venus and, of course, some very cool images.

Both spacecraft snapped enough photos to be combined into timelapse videos. Solar Orbiter took pictures on its approach, showing parts of Venus glistening in the sunlight. Watching the footage below you can pretend to be on the fastest human-made object of all time as it whizzes past the second inner-most planet.

Solar Orbiter venus flyby
Footage of Venus captured by the Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager aboard ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter. Image credits: ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI/Phillip Hess

“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,” Phillip Hess, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, said in a statement. “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 seem to come from the surface.”

BepiColombo instead took its pictures as it moved past Venus, showing the planet receding further and further from view. The probe will be able to continue its photographing and taking measurements until August 18. This footage here is made from 89 images taken by the spacecraft and stitched together by the team. 

BepiColombo venus flyby
BepiColombo flew 20 times closer to Venus than it did during its last flyby in October 2020. Image credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO 

Solar Orbiter will help humanity understand the Sun like never before, including capturing the first images of the polar regions of our star. Its already taken some of the closest images of our star yet. We have never seen the north and south poles of the Sun.

BepiColombo will study Mercury, providing new insights into the innermost planet in the Solar System. It’s already completed three of its nine flybys on its seven-year journey to Mercury. Its next is actually at Mercury in October this year, where it will use Mercury to brake against the Sun’s gravity and swing into orbit of its new home.

 This Week in IFLScience

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