Solar Orbiter Spacecraft Makes Its Closest Approach Yet To Venus

Feb, 2021 - By SMI

Solar Orbiter Spacecraft Makes Its Closest Approach Yet To Venus

On 27th December 2020, the Solar Orbiter probe achieved its closest approach yet to Venus during a series of flybys to refine its orbit on its path to the sun.

The Solar Orbiter made its closest approach to the second planet from the sun on 27th December 2020 at 12:39 GMT when the probe was around 7,500 kilometers from Venus' cloud tops. The Solar Orbiter, which is a collaboration between the ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA had launched in February 2020 on a seven-year long mission to study the Earth’s sun. On its journey to the sun, the probe needs to make several loops starting with the recent flyby of Venus.

During an annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Daniel Müller, project scientist of the Solar Orbiter mission at the ESA had mentioned that the mission is not particularly designed to observe Venus. However, any opportunity to do so is welcome and they will continue the observations when the probe inches closer to Venus. IT is worth noting however, that the main goal of the mission which is to observe the sun limits the amount of work that can be put in during the flyby of Venus. The main challenge is the probe’s design which is sun-wary, which means the heat shield will always point in the direction of the sun and the observatories will keep looking through those shield and at the sun.

This means, no images of Venus can be expected from this mission. Although, the spacecraft’s array pf equipment which focuses on the environment around the sun can change directions unlike the heat shields. This equipment includes the magnetometer, radio and plasma wave equipment, and other sensors located on the energetic particle detector. It was with the help of these instruments that scientists gathered data during the flyby of Venus.

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