On August 9, 2021, the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter probe passed less than 7,995 kilometers from the surface of the planet Venus. In the days leading up to the approach, the spacecraft’s imager, known as the Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager, or SoloHI, captured this brilliant view of the planet.
The images show Venus approaching from the left while the Sun is off camera in the upper right corner. The night side of the planet, the hidden part of the Sun, appears as a dark semicircle surrounded by a crescent of light – the glow of the incredibly bright side of Venus lit by the sun.
“Ideally, we would have been able to resolve some features on the night side of the planet, but there were too many signals on the day side.” said Phillip Hess, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC “Only a slice of the daytime side appears in the images, but it reflects enough sunlight to cause the bright crescent and diffracted rays that appear to come from the surface.”
Two bright stars are also visible in the background at the beginning of the sequence, before being eclipsed by the planet. The rightmost one 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 of Taurus.
This was the second overflight of Venus by Solar Orbiter, the spacecraft will still fly over Earth in November 2021 and six more overflights of Venus planned for 2022 to 2030. close to the Sun and tilt its orbit, rotating it up and out as it “looks down” will see the Sun. From this point of view, the Solar Orbiter will eventually capture the first images of the Sun’s north and south poles. .
On August 10, just one day later, ESA’s and Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency’s BepiColombo mission also passed through Venus. Learn more about the double flyover and see BepiColombo’s images in ESA coverage of the event.