A space probe has resumed its study of Earth's "evil twin" planet Venus after riding out this month's solar storms.
Radiation from two huge flares temporarily knocked out vital startracker cameras that Venus Express uses to navigate and orient itself in orbit.
The European Space Agency (ESA) had to suspend science observations on March 7 after space weather turned bad and bombarded the probe with protons.
Venus, a rocky world similar in size to our own, lies much closer to the Sun at a distance of 108 million km (67 million miles) and so feels the effects of solar storms more strongly.
The two flares were unleashed by a sunspot group labelled AR1429 and followed by Coronal Mass Ejections which hurled solar material out into space. The sunspot is still active and is thought responsible for a CME that exploded yesterday, March 18.
As Venus Express's "eyes" were blinded by the earlier flares, mission controllers at Darmstadt, Germany, switched off all its instruments and put it into a safe mode. Octavio Camino, ESA’s Spacecraft Operations Manager, said: "To be very cautious, we simply stopped science activities to wait out the proton storm.”
Two days later, the radiation levels were judged safe and the startrackers put back to work. And full science operations were resumed last week after it was judged that no damage had been caused to the probe.
Venus Express was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005 as a cut-price mission that was built using many spare parts from a twin satellite, Mars Express, that had been successfully sent to the Red Planet.
But whereas it is relatively simple to observe the martian surface, Venus keeps her secrets hidden beneath an opaque veil of constant cloud. Despite this, successive missions have pierced the clouds to study the planet's surface.
They found that though Venus is a terrestrial planet like Earth, it is a hellish world with a climate that has gone out of control. Its clouds mean it gets less sunlight than we do, but a runaway greenhouse effect has made it the hottest planet in the solar system with a temperature on the ground that is twice the maximum inside a domestic oven at 465C.
Air pressure at the surface is 100 times greater than on Earth. Its atmosphere is almost entirely poisonous carbon dioxide. There is no water. But it rains sulphuric acid from toxic clouds belched by many thousands of volcanoes.