Cropped version of the first image from the double flyby past Venus. Credit: ESA

ESA Spacecraft Film Otherworldly Footage of Venus During Double Flyby — 10 Things You Need to Know

See incredible footage from the gravity assist maneuvers of ESA's Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo spacecraft.

ESA’s Solar Orbiter and the Mercurial-bound station BepiColombo made a double flyby past Venus, 33 hours apart. The two flights made it possible to simultaneously study both the day and night sides of the planet, as well as its magnetosphere and near-planetary plasma. The first images from the flybys, as well as important data, have already been released.


Everything you need to know about ESA’s latest double flyby past Venus

The importance of Venus

Venus is of great interest to scientists for many reasons – this planet is very similar to Earth in size and mass, but very different from it in other properties. This is the reason behind the “new era” of Venus exploration that is set to begin in a few years with several countries in participation.

Compilation of images of Venus as the Solar Orbiter approached the planet from the right which was the planet's nightiside. You can see the bright crescent of light which is the glare from the planet's sunlit side. Credit: ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI/Phillip Hess
Compilation of images of Venus as the Solar Orbiter approached the planet from the right which was the planet’s nightiside. You can see the bright crescent of light which is the glare from the planet’s sunlit side. Credit: ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI/Phillip Hess

What makes the planet this important?

Planetologists are interested in the planet’s current geological activity, the complex dynamics and composition of its atmosphere, including the mystery of the appearance of phosphine, considered a potential biomarker, as well as the unusual properties of its magnetosphere and ionosphere.

The first Venus flyby image captured by the BepiColombo spacecraft which performed its second maneuver at Venus and is on course for Mercury. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Current missions

Currently, only the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft operates in near-Venusian orbit, however, scientists have the opportunity to explore the planet during encounters with spacecraft that are sent to the inner solar system, such as the Parker probe and during events like the recent double flyby.

Sequence of 89 images from the BepiColombo flyby on August 10, 2021. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Sequence of 89 images from the BepiColombo flyby on August 10, 2021. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Solar Orbiter flyby

On August 9 and 10, two European spacecraft made their first double flyby past Venus, just 33 hours apart. First, the Solar Orbiter flew at a minimum distance of 7995 kilometers from the night side of the planet.

BepiColombo flyby

Then, on August 10, the Mercurian research station BepiColombo completed the double flyby when it flew at a minimum distance of 552 kilometers from the dayside of Venus.

New data

Both flybys were made as part of gravity assist maneuvers near Venus and will give scientists a lot of new scientific data on the magnetosphere, plasma environment, and features of the planet’s atmosphere, including images.

Future flybys

“BepiColombo” will not return to Venus while the Solar Orbiter will make seven more gravitational maneuvers near the planet in the future.

Several images from the different cameras on the BepiColombo spacecraft. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

ESA’s EnVision

Earlier this year on June 10, 2021, the European Space Agency announced the start of the development of a new middle-class scientific apparatus, EnVision, which will explore Venus and operate in orbit around the planet.

Previous discoveries

EnVision will continue the research program launched by the European spacecraft Venera-Express, which operated for ten years and made many scientific discoveries: it found ozone in the atmosphere of Venus, showed polar vortices, discovered active volcanoes, and more.

Other upcoming missions

In turn, NASA also has its own Venusian research program, consisting of an orbital station and a descent probe. Russia is also engaged in the development of the Venera-D apparatus while India also wants to launch its spacecraft to Venus.


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Sources:

ESA. (n.d.). BepiColombo skims past Venus.
ESA. (n.d.). ESA gets ready for double Venus flyby.
ESA. (n.d.). Sights and sounds of a Venus flyby.
Hatfield, M. (2021, August 12). During close Pass, SOLAR Orbiter CAPTURES venus’ Glare. NASA.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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