NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has captured a beautiful picture of Venus. Though Parker Solar Probe’s focus is the Sun, Venus plays a critical role in the mission, the Amercan Space Agency said. The spacecraft whips by Venus a total of seven times over the course of its seven-year mission, using the planet’s gravity to bend the spacecraft’s orbit. These Venus gravity assists allow Parker Solar Probe to fly closer and closer to the Sun on its mission to study the dynamics of the solar wind close to its source.
“#ParkerSolarProbe captured this stunning view of Venus during its close flyby of the planet in July 2020. The image shows a bright rim around the planet’s edge, thought to be nightglow, and the dark shape of Aphrodite Terra, a highland on Venus’ surface,” NASA Sun & Space posted on Twitter while sharing the photo.
“Parker Solar Probe flies by Venus to perform gravity assist maneuvers — designed to draw its orbit closer to the Sun — a total of seven times throughout its mission. Read more about the features scientists spotted in the image,” NASA Sun and Space wrote in a separate tweet.
According to NASA, during the mission’s third Venus gravity assist on July 11, 2020, the onboard Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, or WISPR, captured a stunning image of the planet’s nightside from 7,693 miles away.
“WISPR is tailored and tested for visible light observations. We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through to the surface,” said Angelos Vourlidas, the WISPR project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
The striking image took the WISPR team by surprise who then went back to the lab to measure the instrument’s sensitivity to infrared light. According to NASA, If WISPR can indeed pick up near-infrared wavelengths of light, the unforeseen capability would provide new opportunities to study dust around the Sun and in the inner solar system. If it can’t pick up extra infrared wavelengths, then these images — showing signatures of features on Venus’ surface — may have revealed a previously unknown “window” through the Venusian atmosphere.
“Either way, some exciting science opportunities await us, ” said Vourlidas.
Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The spacecraft was built and is operated by Johns Hopkins APL.