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After a five year delay because its initial attempt to enter Venus orbit failed, the Japanese probe Akatsuki is finally about to begin science operations.
Its present orbit is less than ideal, passing 440,000km from the planet at its farthest point. That is roughly five times greater than initially planned and means the orbit time is now nine days. The change in orbit has affected the probe’s observation plan. Of its seven planned missions, Akatsuki will be able to complete only one: taking serial images of clouds. Unfortunately, the probe’s five cameras, each capturing images in different wavelengths, including infrared and ultraviolet, will not be able to provide the same resolution at this greater distance. Observing volcanic eruptions on the Venusian surface may also be difficult.
There is an upside to the situation, however. Takeshi Imamura, an associate professor at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, says the longer orbital period means the probe will be able to collect longer continuous stretches of data.
Considering everything, it is magnificent that Akatsuki will be able to do any science at Venus at all.