Amazing NASA Video Shows Venus Glowing as Orbiter Zips Past

NASA and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft captured incredible footage of Venus as it flew past the planet.

The Solar Orbiter passed within 4,967 miles of the planet's surface on August 9, 2021.

In the days leading up to the approach, an instrument aboard the spacecraft known as the Heliospheric Imager—or SoloHI—captured stunning images.

In footage taken on August 7 and 8, a glowing Venus enters the frame on the left hand side and gradually moves toward the right, appearing to grow larger as the spacecraft approaches.

The rays of the sun, which is located out of frame above the upper right side, are causing one side of the planet to shine incredibly brightly, with SoloHI capturing Venus's glare.

Meanwhile, the nightside of the planet, which is hidden from the sun, is shrouded in darkness, appears like a black spot.

"Ideally, we would have been able to resolve some features on the nightside of the planet, but there was just too much signal from the dayside," Phillip Hess, an astrophysicist with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C, said in a statement.

"Only a sliver of the dayside appears in the images, but it reflects enough sunlight to cause the bright crescent and the diffracted rays that seem to come from the surface."

In the footage, two bright dots are also visible in the background before the approaching Venus blocks the view of them. The rightmost dot is a star called Omicron Tauri, while the one above it and to the left is actually a quadruple star system known as Xi Tauri—both of which form part of the Taurus constellation.

The latest flyby of Venus was the second time that Solar Orbiter has flown past the planet. The spacecraft is set to make six more flybys of the planet between 2022 and 2030.

Footage of Venus captured by Solar Orbiter
Footage of Venus captured by the Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager aboard ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter. ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI/Phillip Hess

Solar Orbiter uses the gravity of Venus to pull itself closer to its main object of study—the sun.

The flybys also tilt the orbit of the spacecraft so that it is able to look down upon the sun's two poles and eventually capture the first images of these uncharted polar regions.

The spacecraft, which launched on February 2020, has already captured the closest ever images of our the sun. Over the course of its planned seven year mission, the spacecraft will make a close approach to the sun every six months.

According to NASA and the ESA, the mission will address some of the key questions in heliophysics such as: What drives the sun's 11-year cycle of rising and subsiding magnetic activity? What heats up the upper layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, to millions of degrees? What drives the generation of the solar wind? What accelerates the solar wind to speeds of hundreds of miles per second? And how does the sun's activity affect our planet?

Solar Orbiter's latest flyby of Venus took place just one day before the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and ESA's BepiColombo mission also flew past the planet.

A close up of Venus
An image of Venus lit up by the sun captured by NASA/ESA's Solar Orbiter. ESA/NASA/NRL/SoloHI/Phillip Hess