A solar mass ejection collided with a research vehicle near Venus

Early on September 4, the Solar Orbiter probe flew past Venus to perform a gravity assist that changes the spacecraft’s orbit and brings it closer to the Sun. Two days before the closest approach, the Sun unleashed a powerful coronal mass ejection on the device and the planet, according to the European Space Agency. The collected data reveals details about this phenomenon.

Despite the force of the impact, the solar observatory survived the impact and the gravity maneuver went exactly as planned. The Solar Orbiter is designed to withstand and measure our star’s powerful flare. Unlike the probe, the planet received more: coronal mass ejections destroy the atmosphere of Venus and capture some of the gases with them.

A coronal mass ejection from the far side of the Sun towards Venus. Image: ESA/NASA SOHO

Although some of the Solar Orbiter’s research vehicles were powered down before approaching Venus to protect them from diffuse sunlight reflected off the planet’s surface. Others continued to work and recorded, among other things, an increase in the amount of solar energy particles around the ship.

Data sent by the Solar Orbiter to Earth shows how the surrounding space has changed during the storm. The probe recorded a large number of particles, mainly protons and electrons, as well as ionized helium atoms. All these particles were accelerated to relativistic speeds (close to the speed of light).

The researchers note that it is these particles that pose the greatest radiation hazard to astronauts and spacecraft. An improved understanding of particle propagation during coronal mass ejections will enable the development of protective measures for future space missions and better prediction of the effects of eruptions on Earth’s weather.

Map of the Solar Orbiter mission. Video: ESA

The Solar Orbiter is an automated spacecraft designed to explore the Sun. It was launched into space in early 2020. The mission’s research vehicles are designed for remote observation of the Sun and in situ data collection. This approach makes it possible to compare events observed on the Sun with changes in the solar wind breaking the probe.

The spacecraft uses the gravitational approach to Venus to first approach the Sun, and from 2025 to leave the plane of the planetary system’s ecliptic and explore the star’s poles. Earlier, Hi-Tech showed a video taken by the probe during a record approach to the Sun.


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Cover: Artistic illustration of the Solar Orbiter flyby of Venus. Image: ESA/ATG media lab

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