NASA’s Sun Probe got an incredible photo of Venus

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NASA’s closest eye on the Sun, the Parker Solar Probe, was passing by Venus last summer for a gravity assist when it snapped a new, striking image of the planet’s nightside, revealing a clear view of the Venusian surface.

The solar probe was launched in 2018. It is in the midst of its seven-year journey to study the Sun from 4 million miles away, the closest any man-made object has gone before. To do this, the Parker Solar Probe needs to use Venusian gravity to help tighten its orbit around the Sun through batches of seven flybys, nudging itself closer to the star with each pass.

The image taken by Parker Solar Probe’s Wide-field Imager (WISPR) came during its third Venus flyby in July 2020, and scientists were shocked. They expected WISPR to capture Venus’ thick, carbon dioxide-rich clouds that usually obstruct views of the surface. But instead, the camera was able to see through the clouds and reveal the dark-tinted shape of Aphrodite Terra, an elevated area of Venus near its equator that scientists say is about 85°F cooler than its surroundings.

The probe might have shown an unexpected capability for sensing infrared light, which could unlock a new potential for scientists to study dust circling the Sun. “This surprising observation sent the WISPR team back to the lab to measure the instrument’s sensitivity to infrared light,” Michael Buckley, communications manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, wrote in a NASA blog post.


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