The sun-studying Solar Orbiter spacecraft will swing by Venus on Saturday (Sept. 3) and collect bonus observations of our neighbor planet’s mysterious magnetic subject.
The Solar Orbiter mission, led by the European Space Agency (ESA), is already capturing the closest-ever images of the sun. Throughout its lifetime, the probe makes use of the gravity of Venus to regulate its orbit and sneak nearer to our star. These common swings previous the new and scorching planet additionally allow Solar Orbiter to have a look at the mysterious magnetic subject of Earth’s planetary sister.
Today’s flyby will see Solar Orbiter make its closest method at 9:26 p.m. EDT (0126 GMT on Sept. 4), coming as shut as 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) to Venus.
During the maneuver, one of many probe’s devices might be taking measurements of Venus’ bow shock, Daniel Muller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter undertaking scientist instructed Space.com in an e-mail. A bow shock is the sun-facing area of a planet’s magnetic subject, the place it meets the solar wind, the stream of charged particles emanating from the sun.
“It is very interesting ‘bonus science’ enabled by Solar Orbiter’s orbit design, and we are doing all we can to exploit it,” Muller wrote.
The upcoming flyby might be Solar Orbiter’s third of Venus; the earlier encounters additionally provided observations of the planet’s magnetism. Unlike Earth, Venus would not have an inherent magnetic subject generated by the movement of molten metallic within the planet’s inside. Instead, Venus’ magnetic subject is what scientists name an induced magnetic subject, a results of the interplay between Venus’ thick atmosphere and the solar wind.
Measurements obtained during the previous Venus flybys (opens in new tab) in December 2020 and August 2021 revealed that on the facet of Venus going through away from the sun, the magnetic subject, though extraordinarily weak, extends not less than 188,000 miles (300,000 km) into space. Solar Orbiter additionally discovered that regardless of its weak and unstable nature, the magnetic subject accelerates charged particles inside Venus’ magnetosphere to speeds of over 5 million mph (8 million kph).
Scientists have recognized Venus’ magnetic subject existed since the first spacecraft visited the planet (opens in new tab) within the Sixties and Nineteen Eighties. There are, nonetheless, nonetheless many unanswered questions in regards to the subject’s origins and conduct.
Solar Orbiter, which launched in 2020, can have a number of extra alternatives to contribute to answering these questions. The probe will return to Venus eight instances over practically a decade throughout its travels in space to make use of the planet’s gravity to shift its orbit out of the ecliptic aircraft, during which planets orbit.
These maneuvers will finally enable the spacecraft to view the sun’s poles, that are up to now utterly unexplored. The polar areas are crucial to producing the sun’s magnetic subject, which in flip drives the sun’s 11-year-cycle of activity, the ebb and circulation within the creation of sunspots, eruptions and flares. The precise mechanism behind this cycle and its various depth stays unknown.
Solar Orbiter can have one of the best probability to reply these questions because it research the star simply as its exercise builds up towards the height of the present solar cycle, predicted to happen round 2025.