Photos of Venus that shocked scientists show unexpected effects

NASA released this photo on Feb. 25 showing Venus as captured by the Parker Probe.

The Parker Solar Probe aims to explore the sun, but researchers recently discovered that a photo it took of Venus in passing had a completely unexpected effect.

A blog post published by NASA on Feb. 25 shows a photo of Venus taken by the Parker probe. The photo shows the hemisphere of Venus at night, covered with short white lines.

The photo was taken by the Parker Probe’s Wide-field Camera (WISPR). This camera was designed to photograph the corona and solar wind, and it was not expected to be used to photograph the planet no less well.

NASA explains that the dense white lines on the photo are a visual effect of cosmic rays, dust and debris. But there are several other peculiarities in the photo.

A bright halo of light appears next to Venus. People wonder what those halos are all about. Researchers from the Parker Probe project team think that’s the effect of charged oxygen atoms in Venus’ atmosphere penetrating the planet’s nighttime hemisphere and appearing on the photo because they are brighter and therefore visible than the nighttime hemisphere.

NASA says the camera also has infrared imaging capabilities and is able to photograph the surface of Venus through its atmosphere.

“WISPR is designed to make visible-light observations.” Angelos Vourlidas, a WISPR project team scientist, said, “We expected to see clouds, but instead the camera went through the clouds and captured the surface.”

The photo shows a dark, shadowed area in the middle of Venus, which is actually Aphrodite Terra, the largest continental and highland terrain on Venus, very close to the equator. This area is 85 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding temperature, so it appears darker. This proves that WISPR has the ability to collect thermal data in addition to visible light.

The Parker Solar Probe is planned for seven years, with seven flybys designed to lend acceleration to Venus, and the project is currently two and a half years old. This photo, taken in July 2020, marks the third flyby of the Parker probe, which was only 7,693 miles from Venus.

Most recently, on Feb. 20, the Parker probe just made another forceful flyby of Venus to begin its next journey close to the sun.