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As it refines its orbit around our Sun, Parker will pass Venus a total of seven times over its seven-year mission.
The Parker probe uses the gravitational pull of planets to bend its path through the Solar System.
Recorded on July 11, 2020, a fascinating new image of Venus was taken during the third of Parker’s seven planned encounters with the Sun.
This photo was recorded by the Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) from a distance of 12,380 kilometers (7,693 miles) from the nightside of the planet.
This new image of Venus shows a bright ring bordering the edge of the planet.
We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through to the surface,” explained Angelos Vourlidas, WISPR project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
This was a bit of a surprise to researchers, who did not expect WISPR to see ground features on Venus so clearly.
This presents a fascinating question for mission engineers and astronomers — why was WISPR able to see so clearly through the clouds of Venus? The two most-likely possibilities are either WISPR is able to see better in infrared wavelengths than designers believed, or there is, or was, a thinner region of clouds, allowing the camera to see through the haze.
If WISPR is able to effectively image infrared wavelengths of light, then we have a new tool to study dust and pebbles like that which formed the rocky planets of the inner solar system.
The WISPR team is studying Earth’s overheated companion in conjunction with the team managing Japan’s Venus-orbiting Akatsuki mission.
“If WISPR can sense the thermal emission from the surface of Venus and nightglow — most likely from oxygen — at the limb of the planet, it can make valuable contributions to studies of the Venusian surface,” explains Javier Peralta, planetary scientist with the Akatsuki team.
A second set of images of the nightside of Venus were recorded by the WISPR team on February 20, 2021.