As its name suggests, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe aims to study the sun. However, on his way to the sun, Parker flew close to Venus. She seized the opportunity to capture some wonderful views of the planet during its close flyby in July 2020. While the probe was aiming to study the sun, Venus was critical to the mission as the spacecraft would orbit around the planet to obtain gravitational assistance to allow it to fly close to the sun to complete its primary mission.
Its corridors near Venus have yielded some unique and unexpected views of our inner solar system. Image The image below was captured during the 3rd Gravity Assist Mission to Venus that took place on July 11, 2020. The image was captured by a Parker Solar Probe aboard Wide Field Photographer known as WISPR.
The night side of Venus is pictured from a distance of 7,693 miles. WISPR is designed to capture images of the solar corona and inner heliosphere in visible light. You’re also supposed to take pictures of the solar wind and its structures as it approaches and flies the spacecraft.
The image of Venus taken by the camera shows a bright room around the edge of the planet that may be glowing. The night glow is the light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere recombined into particles on the planet’s night side. It looks dark in the photos because it is about 85 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the surroundings.
Scientists on the mission team were surprised that WISPR could look into the clouds around Venus and see the planet’s surface. According to the mission team, the imaging system captured the thermal emission of the surface of Venus.
As a result of the image, the WISPR team went to the lab to measure their device’s infrared sensitivity. If the imaging system can see near-infrared wavelengths, the unexpected power could provide new opportunities for studying dust around the sun and within the inner solar system. The probe took more pictures of Venus during a flight that took place on February 20, 2021. Scientists expect that data will be received and processed from that observation by the end of April.