Another advantage of the Parker solar probe, designed for a detailed study of the Sun, is that it is able to examine planets as they pass their orbits. By refining its orbit around our Sun, Parker will pass Venus a total of seven times during its seven-year mission. The Parker probe uses the planets’ gravitational pull to bend its way 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) at a distance of 12,380 kilometers (7,693 miles) from the nocturnal part of the planet.
Like a WISPR in the wind
The WISPR camera was designed to image the Sun’s internal heliosphere (which extends far into space) in visible light, as well as to study the solar wind.
“WISPR uses two cameras with CMOS detectors with active radiation-hardened pixel sensors. These detectors are used instead of traditional CCDs because they are lighter and consume less power. They are also less sensitive to the effects of damage from cosmic ray radiation and other high-energy particles, which are of great concern near the Sun.
The camera lenses are made of a radiation-resistant BK7, a type of glass commonly used for space telescopes, which is also sufficiently hardened against impacts from dust, ”NASA describes.
This new image of Venus shows a ring of light bordering the edge of the planet. Researchers believe it could be night light – light emitted as oxygen atoms, separated by sunlight, recombines into molecules.
“Sorry… my mind was wandering… once it went to Venus and ordered a meal that I couldn’t afford.” – Steven Wright
The dark region near the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest mountainous region on the Venusian surface. This geological feature looks bleak due to the fact that it is about 30 degrees Celsius (85 F.) cooler than the surrounding terrain.
“WISPR is designed and tested for visible light observations. We expected to see clouds, but the camera looked down to the surface, ”said Angelos Vourlidas, WISPR scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
This was a bit of a surprise to the researchers, who didn’t expect WISPR to see soil characteristics on Venus so clearly.
This poses 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 that WISPR is able to see better in infrared wavelengths than the designers believed, or there is, or was, a thinner cloud region, allowing the camera to see through the haze.
Either cause offers exciting new science. If WISPR is able to effectively imagine infrared wavelengths of light, then we have a new tool for studying dust and pebbles like the one that formed the rocky planets of the inner solar system. If there was a previously unknown break in the clouds, this feature could help us better understand the Venusian atmosphere.
The WISPR team is studying Earth’s superheated companion in collaboration with the Akatsuki mission team orbiting Venus in Japan. This spacecraft images Venus in infrared wavelengths, producing images similar to the unexpected images taken by Parker.
“If the WISPR can detect thermal emission from the surface of Venus and the nocturnal glow – probably oxygen – at the planet level, it can make valuable contributions to studies of the Venus surface”, explains Javier Peralta, planetary Akatsuki. team.
A second set of images of the night of Venus was recorded by the WISPR team on February 20, 2021. Analysis of these images is expected to be completed by April of this year.
This article was originally published on The cosmic companion by James maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He was born in New England and became a desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole and Max the Cat. You can read this original piece here.
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