NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe in 2018, but the spacecraft Just got back an amazing shot of Venus From her last flight. According to NASA, Parker has previously detected an invisible glow that could be caused by oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere. The unexpected clarity of the surface’s properties led scientists to reassess the sensitivity of Parker cameras.
Parker is designed to study the Sun, but it also spends a lot of time near Venus. To analyze the sun’s corona without being fried, Parker moves at incredible speeds. It is currently the fastest human-made object, moving at 300,000 mph (466,000 km / h) relative to the sun. With the help of a multi-layered heat shield, Parker can blast through the extremely hot corona quickly enough to take readings and exit the other side unscathed. It is moving faster now than it was at launch thanks to the help of regular gravity from Venus.
During one of these nearby corridors in July 2020, NASA pointed the ship’s wide-angle WISPR camera at the planet – the image you see above is what they recovered. The camera displays a bright glow along the edge of the planet, which could be a “night glow”. This comes from oxygen atoms that emit a few photons of light when they recombine into molecules on the planet’s dark side. Astronomers probably I spotted the same thing on Mars recently.
Perhaps most interestingly, the image shows features of the surface of Venus. As you know, Venus has a thick, suffocating atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. Most instruments cannot see the surface at all, but Parker’s shot shows the dark outlines of Aphrodite Terra, the largest elevation area on the planet.
NASA says this could have two notable impacts on future observations. First, Parker’s WISPR camera could be more sensitive to infrared wavelengths of light than the team realized – they are currently running lab tests to see how deep the infrared can be seen by Parker. This could open up new ways to study the dust around the sun. It also indicates that there may be a wavelength of infrared light that acts as a “window” through Venus’s atmosphere. The team is looking into that, too.
What about all the lines in the picture? Scientists are still debating that. The current thinking is that this is the result of charged particles bouncing off dust. The number of lines varies depending on where Parker is in its orbit, but that’s a file Much From the highlight. We may have some answers soon. Parker just completed another flight to Venus on February 20. The team hopes to process this data and release it in April.