Fortunately, scientists have photographed the surface of Venus from space for the first time. Although the planet’s rocky body is obscured by thick cloud cover, the telescope above NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has managed to capture the first visible light image of the surface taken from space, researchers reported in the Feb. 16 Geophysics Research Letter.
“We’ve never seen a surface through a cloud at this wavelength before,” Lori Gleizes, director of NASA’s Planet Exploration Division, said on Feb. 10 during a live Twitter feed. Although the Parker Solar Probe was built to study the Sun, it must fly around Venus regularly. The planet’s gravity pulls the probe, narrowing its orbit and bringing it closer to the Sun (SN: 01/15/21). Assistance from Venus helped the spacecraft make headlines when it became the first probe to enter the Sun’s atmosphere (SN: 12/15/21).
During two such flybies in July 2020 and February 2021, the WISPR probe telescope took on new images. Although WISPR found the daytime portion of Venus too bright to describe, it was able to see large -scale surface features, such as a vast high mountain area called Aphrodite’s Land, through clouds at night.
Clouds have the ability to scatter and absorb light. But some wavelengths of light pass, depending on the chemical composition of the cloud, said Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at the University of Washington in St. Louis. Louis, who was not involved in the study.
Although scientists know that such a spectral window exists in the thick clouds of sulfuric acid on Venus, the researchers did not expect the light visible to the human eye to penetrate so intensely. And while WISPR is designed to study the solar atmosphere, its design also allows it to detect this unexpected window of light in Venus clouds. “Fortunately, they have instruments that can see through the cloud,” Byrne said.
The photos show the planet so hot that it glows like hot iron, said Brian Wood, an astrophysicist at the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and co -author of the paper, during a social media event.
“The light and dark patterns you see are basically temperature maps,” he says – brighter areas are warmer and darker areas are cooler. This pattern correlates well with topographic maps previously generated from radar and infrared surveys. According to Wood, the highlands look dark, while the lowlands look bright.