NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft made its second flyby of Venus earlier in June, and scientists have now released the images. The photographs attached to this story actually show the pictures the spacecraft captured as it was traveling away from Venus, on its way to an encounter with Mercury in the future.
MESSENGER has a suite of instruments designed to map out the details of Mercury’s surface; unfortunately, Venus is obscured by thick clouds, so it wasn’t able to see down to map out the terrain and minerals. That task will have to wait until it reaches Mercury. However, it did get an opportunity to observe the cloudy planet at the same time ESA’s Venus Express was observing. Scientists will be able to compare images, combine data, and calibrate scientific instruments from this double view.
The spacecraft has now past Venus for the last time; all of its future planetary encounters will be with Mercury. It will make three flybys of the closest planet to the Sun before going into orbit in 2011.
Original Source: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL News Release