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Haunting new image of Venus snapped during spacecraft flyby

BepiColombo, which was enlisted to help search for life in Venus's clouds last year, grabs a startling new photo of the hellish planet.

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft captured this view of Venus on Aug. 10, 2021.

The spacecraft BepiColombo is going to Mercury, but it's taking a roundabout way of getting there. It skimmed by Venus this week for what's called a "gravity assist maneuver" that helps it aim for the innermost planet in our solar system. During the flyby, it snapped a new image of the planet in haunting black and white.

BepiColombo is a joint mission from the European Space Agency and Japan's space agency JAXA. It previously zipped by Venus in 2020. The new image comes to us courtesy of a black and white camera. It makes Venus look like a glowing disk against the darkness of space.

The spacecraft photobombed Venus. You can spot an antenna and part of BepiColombo's body in the image. 

BepiColombo launched in 2018. "During its seven-year cruise to the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System, BepiColombo makes one flyby at Earth, two at Venus and six at Mercury to brake against the gravitational pull of the sun in order to enter orbit around Mercury," ESA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Mercury-bound spacecraft isn't the only visitor to Venus this week. It's half of a rare double flyby. The NASA and ESA Solar Orbiter zoomed by on Aug. 9 on its way to check out the sun's poles. Solar Orbiter wasn't able to snap the planet, so BepiColombo is our best source for Venus views from the flyby events.

The flybys are giving scientists a chance to investigate Venus' environment. The planet has had a high profile lately due to intriguing gas measurements, though a study from earlier this year suggests Venus can't sustain life in its clouds.

JAXA currently has its Akatsuki orbiter in residence. Venus will soon be under more intense study as NASA and ESA are developing a trio of missions to send to the unfriendly inferno planet that's known for its sulfuric acid clouds. In the meantime, we can enjoy the view from BepiColombo.

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