On the night of September 3 to 4, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft flew over Venus to take advantage of its gravitational aid and thus tilt its orbit. The probe must be placed in orbit at the level of the poles of the Sun. To gradually approach the polar heliocentric orbit, the probe must fly over Venus a total of seven times. The spacecraft will be positioned in its final orbit in 2028.
This video from the European Space Agency shows how the Solar Orbiter spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of Venus to tilt its orbit until it ends up in a polar orbit around the Sun. Credits: ESA.
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It was during the third flyby of Venus that the probe found itself captured by a coronal mass ejection. This is from the solar flare that occurred on August 30, 2022. This flare was directed towards Venus and the nearby probe.
In a statement, the European Space Agency states that fortunately the spacecraft has not suffered material damage. In fact, Solar Orbiter was built to withstand this type of eruption. The spacecraft was able to take advantage of this solar storm since by keeping its instruments turned on, it was able to record certain data during the event. In particular, it recorded an increase in energetic particles emitted by the Sun, such as protons, electrons and ionized atoms such as helium. “It is these particles that pose a radiation hazard to astronauts and spacecraft,” says the European Space Agency.
Finally, observing this plasma ejection from within is a glimpse of the Solar Orbiter missions. When he gets closer to the Sun, his goal will be to study the wind, the magnetic field and the solar cycle. But also to predict and alert the Earth when a solar storm occurs.
Read also: Here’s how a powerful solar flare could plunge the Earth into a total blackout. Astronomers from the University of Colorado in Boulder have observed a spectacular and disturbing phenomenon tens of light years from Earth. A young G-type star named EK Draconis, a younger version of our Sun, has ejected a cloud of burning plasma weighing billions of kilograms! This is the most powerful coronal mass ejection ever recorded for this type of star. However, in theory, these kinds of events could very well occur on our Sun, causing considerable damage to the Earth.