The solar probe surprised NASA with the incredible photo of Venus. It is thought that Parker Solar Probe may have made an unexpected discovery.
Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s closest eye to the Sun, revealed a surprisingly clear view of the Venusian surface. The probe captured a stunning view of the planet’s mysterious night wing. The spacecraft launched in 2018 is in the middle of its seven-year journey to examine the Sun from 4 million miles away. At the same time, the probe is the closest to the Sun where any man-made object has ever gone before.
The incoming image shocked the scientists
To do this, Parker Solar Probe uses Venus’ gravity to tighten its orbit around the Sun along seven sideways, bringing itself closer to the star with each pass. Thanks to these landscape transitions, it can capture interesting photos of Venus.
The image taken by Parker Solar Probe’s Wide Field Imager (WISPR) came during the third Venus flyby in July 2020 and shocked scientists. They expected WISPR to capture thick, carbon dioxide-rich clouds that often obstruct Venus’s vision of the surface. But instead, the camera was able to see through the clouds.
With this image, WISPR revealed the dark shape of Aphrodite Terra, a region of Venus high near the equator, which scientists say is 85 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than its surroundings.
“WISPR effectively captured the thermal emission of the Venus surface,” said Brian Wood, an astrophysicist and WISPR scientist at the US Marine Research Laboratory in Washington DC, in a statement from NASA.
Wood also noted that the image is similar to those taken by a Japanese Venus probe, which currently analyzes Venus and can capture light in near infrared wavelengths.
It is thought that WISPR may have demonstrated an unexpected ability to detect infrared light. If this discovery is correct, it is predicted that it could unlock a new potential to study the dust surrounding the Sun.
“This surprising observation sent the WISPR team back to the lab to measure the device’s sensitivity to infrared light,” said Michael Buckley, communications manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in a blog post on the subject.
But if that’s not the case, scientists say the emergence of Aphrodite Terra could mean that WISPR discovered a previously unknown opening in the thick clouds of Venus.
To find out, the teams planned the night side shots of Venus on their last flight last weekend. They plan to release more images and an analysis by the end of April.
On the other hand, it is stated that WISPR’s image reveals other fascinating properties of Venus. A glowing frame has been detected in the upper atmosphere of the planet, which scientists suspect could be a “night glow”.
The weak glow specific to Venus’s night flank is thought to be due to the collision of oxygen and nitrogen atoms coming from the sun’s exposed side of the planet. According to NASA’s post, scientists are still investigating the exact cause of the thin lines of light that fly across the frame of the image.
Charged particles called cosmic rays are thought to be tiny grains of space dust reflecting sunlight or “particles of material emerging from the structures of the spacecraft after they hit these dust grains”.