Japan’s Akatsuki probe — the name means “dawn” in Japanese — was originally launched in May 2010 but missed its window to enter orbit around Venus due to a technical malfunction, instead going spinning around the sun for five years.
Venus offers a great deal for us to learn about the solar system and the formation of its planets, including our own, JAXA said, given that the planet is a similar size and distance from the sun as Earth and because its “birth formation is considered to be similar to that of the Earth.”
The worlds are so similar they are sometimes referred to as sister planets, with only Venus’ incredibly thick atmosphere — made up of more than 96% carbon dioxide — setting the two apart. The planet’s runaway greenhouse effect means its surface is the hottest of any planet in the solar system, at a roasting 462 degrees Celsius (863 degrees Fahrenheit), hotter even than Mercury.
As JAXA approaches Venus, its U.S. counterpart has been examining objects at the furthest reaches of the solar system.
“This sets a record, by a factor of at least 15, for the closest-ever picture of a small body in the Kuiper Belt, the solar system’s ‘third zone’ beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer, icy gas giants,” the New Horizons team said in a statement.
The object — designated 1994 JR1 — was around 3.3 billion miles (5.3 billion kilometers) from the sun at the time the photos were taken, the statement said.
New Horizons is planned to conduct a close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object — 2014 MU69 — in January 2019 that would give us insights into the bodies at the furthest reaches of the solar system.