Venus Express Achieves Orbit

Venus Express: Artist’s view of ESA's Venus Express probe in orbit around Venus. Image courtesy ESA - D. Ducros.

Another planetary probe has achieved orbit around a planet in our solar system. Much like NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express entered an elongated orbit of Venus yesterday. The probe will spend the next four weeks to refine its orbit from its current 9 day to a 24 hour polar orbit.

The Venus Express was launched on November 9, 2005 and once it has reached its goal orbit will begin exploring the Venusian atmosphere. The probe will study the atmosphere’s complex dynamics and chemistry, as well as the relationship between the atmosphere and the planet’s surface, which will provide clues about surface characteristics.

Vortex: Atmospheric vortex over Venus' North pole. Image courtesy ESA - AOES Medialab.

One aspect of the Venusian atmosphere that Venus Express will investigate is the incredible atmospheric vortices that rotate over Venus’ poles. The vortex over the North Pole, has an unusual “double eye” configuration and its origin and impact on the planet continue to be a mystery.

This will be the fourth ESA probe to achieve orbit around another celestial body. The ESA also operates the Mars Express (Mars), SMART-1 (the Moon), and is NASA’s partner on the Cassini-Huygens orbiter (Saturn). The ESA is also operating the Rosetta probe which is on its way to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it will begin orbiting in 2014.

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