|Volume: 04, Issue: 07||11/30/2005|
Venus Express Observes Earth, MoonThe European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft has begun its journey to Earth’s shy neighbor. In a recent instrument test, the craft captured its first data: observations of the Earth-Moon system.
Launched on Nov. 9, 2005, Venus Express is now in the Near Earth Commissioning Phase. The operations team at the European Space Operations Centre is now verifying the health and functionality of all the Venus Express instruments. Scientists began testing the craft’s instruments on Nov. 18. These initial switch-on and test activities are scheduled to be complete by Dec. 14.
The recent observations of Earth and the Moon were made by VIRTIS, the craft’s Ultraviolet/Visible/Near-Infrared mapping spectrometer.
”The observations were made from 3.5 million kilometers away, with a phase angle of 65 degrees,” said Guiseppe Piccioni, one of two principal investigators for the project. “[This means] that 65% of Earth’s disk was illuminated by the Sun, providing observations of both the day and night sides of Earth.”
The Earth observations will be used to test the instrument on a real planetary case before Venus approach. The Moon observations will provide additional interest for calibrating the instrument.
The VIRTIS instrument on Venus Express is a twin of the same instrument on ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. Similar observations were returned by Rosetta in March 2005, so comparisons of the two sets of observations will be useful for calibration purposes.
The substantial distance Venus Express has traveled since its launch confirms the excellent operation of the instruments for the scientific team. It gives them confidence of spectacular results when in April 2006 the spacecraft reaches Venus’ orbit, where similar measurements will be made hundreds times closer.
For more information about the Venus Express mission, visit the following website: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Venus_Express/index.html
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