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First Image From This Week's Rare Double Flyby of Venus

The European-Japanese mission BepiColombo was one of two spacecraft to pass by the hot, toxic planet this week.

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Venus and BepiColombo.
Venus looms in an image taken by the spacecraft BepiColombo on August 10, 2021 (crop).
Image: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM

The BepiColombo mission got this close-up image of the planet Venus as it passed by on August 10. The spacecraft was using Venus for a gravity assist on its way to its ultimate destination, Mercury. It’s one of two spacecraft zipping by the planet this week, the other being Solar Orbiter, which flew past yesterday.

BepiColombo, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is actually made of two attached orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The former will map the planet in great detail, and the latter will study its magnetosphere. But in order for all that to happen, the spacecraft needed to slingshot itself around Venus. By a lucky coincidence, Solar Orbiter was also in the neighborhood, giving scientists a unique observation opportunity. We’re still awaiting news of how Solar Orbiter’s flyby yesterday went.

Venus with BepiColombo in the foreground.
BepiColombo’s close-up image of Venus, taken by the spacecraft’s Monitoring Camera 3 on August 10, 2021.
Image: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM

This image of a looming Venus was taken by BepiColombo when it was 977 miles away, according to a release from the ESA. It was taken by the spacecraft’s third monitoring camera aboard the Mercury Transfer Module. Lightly processed (to enhance the contrast), the image captures the Mercury Planetary Orbiter’s antenna and part of BepiColombo’s body.


It was BepiColombo’s second gravity assist of Venus and the third of nine total flybys the spacecraft is scheduled to perform as it get ever nearer to Mercury. BepiColombo’s closest approach of Venus today came in at just under 350 miles above the planet’s surface, making it a pretty close shave, especially in comparison to Solar Orbiter, which only got to about 5,000 miles of the planet yesterday, according to the ESA.

BepiColombo’s future flybys will be of the planet Mercury and will slow the spacecraft down enough to enter the planet’s orbit. The first of those is slated for early October.

More: Rare Back-to-Back Flybys of Venus Will Happen Next Week