Science and Exploration

Solar Orbiter Snaps Venus, Earth And Mars

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
January 27, 2021
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Solar Orbiter Snaps Venus, Earth And Mars
Venus, Earth And Mars

This recording was made on 18 November 2020 by the Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) camera on board the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter spacecraft.

Three Solar System planets are visible in the foreground: Venus (left), Earth (middle), and Mars (right). Stars are visible in the background, appearing to move in Solar Orbiter’s recording while the spacecraft travels around the Sun. The planets are also moving slightly in the SoloHI field-of-view, but their apparent motions are different because of their individual orbital motions around the Sun.

Venus is the brightest object in the video, roughly 48 million kilometres away from Solar Orbiter. The distance to Earth was 251 million kilometres and 332 million kilometres to Mars on that day. The Sun is located on the right, outside the video frame.

At the moment of the recording, Solar Orbiter was on its way to Venus for its first gravity assist flyby, which happened on 27 December. Venus and Earth flybys will bring the spacecraft closer to the Sun and tilt its orbit in order to observe our star from different perspectives.

Solar Orbiter is the most complex scientific laboratory ever to have been built to study the Sun and the solar wind, taking images of our star from closer than any spacecraft before. During its initial cruise phase, which lasts until November 2021, Solar Orbiter is already acquiring data constantly with its four in situ instruments. These instruments measure the conditions around the spacecraft itself.

SoloHI is one of the six remote-sensing instruments onboard the mission. During cruise phase, these are still being calibrated during specific periods, but are switched off otherwise. SoloHI takes images of the solar wind – the stream of charged particles constantly released by the Sun into outer space – by capturing the light scattered by electrons in the wind.

The solar wind, along with powerful ejections of plasma from the Sun, can cause disturbances in our space environment – a phenomenon called “space weather” – which can potentially harm astronauts, satellites in space and disrupt ground-based technology.

Understanding what drives the solar wind and the acceleration of solar wind particles, will helps us better predict periods of stormy space weather.

Where is Solar Orbiter now? Track the location of Solar Orbiter from home using this interactive chart!

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA.

Image credit: Solar Orbiter/SoloHI Team/ ESA & NASA; U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.