ESA-NASA Solar Orbiter probe completes its first Venus flyby

A joint ESA and NASA probe is on its way to the sun. The probe is called the Solar Orbiter, and on its trek towards the sun, it passed by Venus. Solar Orbiter completed its first flyby Venus about 7:39 AM Eastern time on Sunday, December 27.

Anyone hoping for photographs of Venus from the Solar Orbiter will be disappointed. The telescopes aboard the spacecraft were focused on the main mission of studying the sun. However, the probe did gather magnetometer, particle, plasma, and radio data to shed light on how Venus interacts with solar winds.

Scientists on the mission team say it will be a few days before they can analyze the data collected to see if any new discoveries can be made. Scientists have said that no major discoveries about Venus should be expected since the Solar Orbiter isn't designed to study Venus. Another reason no major insights are expected is that the Solar Orbiter passed by Venus at a distance of 4700 miles limiting data it could gather.

Mostly, the first flyby of Venus by the orbiter is an important milestone in its main mission. The flyby also represents one of the first opportunities for the spacecraft to gather data as part of its seven-year mission. Essentially, the flyby marks the orbiter's first day on the job.

Solar Orbiter is intended to study the sun and is the first mission specifically to study the sun's poles. In about two years, the orbiter will make its first close pass by the sun to gather data. The orbit required to allow Solar Orbiter to observe the sun's poles means that it will make a close pass by Venus on each orbit to get a gravity assist pushing it closer to the sun.