Venus Glows Like An Iron Pulled From A Forge In NASA's First Surface Pics In Visible Light

venus surface
As NASA's Parker Solar Probe passed by Venus, it was able to capture its first images of the planet's surface in visible light. Venus' surface is typically encased in thick clouds and shrouded from sight. Parker was able to utilize its Wide-Field Imager, or WISPR, to capture the entire nightside in wavelengths of the visible spectrum.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe was the first manmade spacecraft to essentially touch the Sun, and also set a speed record of 364,621 MPH as it zipped past Venus recently. But it is another first for the Solar Probe that has scientist filled with excitement at the moment. Images captured by Parker have revealed a faint glow from the surface of Venus that shows distinctive features such as continental regions, plains, and plateaus. Along with the other features, a luminescent halo of oxygen in the atmosphere can also be seen surrounding the planet.

Venus, often referred to as Earth's twin, is most often covered in thick clouds and scientists and astronomers are unable to view its surface. Therefore, images of this nature can be vital to scientists in learning more about the planet's surface geology, what minerals might be located there, and the evolution of the planet itself. Information of this type could also help scientist to understand why Venus became uninhabitable and Earth became an oasis.

"We're thrilled with the insights Parker Solar Probe has provided thus far," said Nicola Fox, Division Director for the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. "Parker continues to outperform our expectations, and we are excited that these novel observations taken during our gravity assist maneuver can help advance Venus research in unexpected ways."

The first images that were captured by WISPR of Venus were taken in July 2020 as it made its third flyby. Parker uses flybys of Venus to bend its orbit closer to the Sun. WISPR was created to see faint features in the solar atmosphere and wind, and some believed they might be able to use WISPR to capture the cloud tops cloaking Venus as Parker passed by the planet.

"Venus is the third brightest thing in the sky, but until recently we have not had much information on what the surface looked like because our view of it is blocked by a thick atmosphere," stated Brian Wood, lead author on the new study and physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. "Now, we finally are seeing the surface in visible wavelengths for the first time from space."

As Parker made its pass by Venus, it not only saw clouds, but also peered through to the planet's surface for the first time. The images that were captured were so amazing, that scientists turned on the cameras again during its fourth pass in February 2021. It was during this flyby that spacecraft lined up perfectly for WISPR to image Venus' nightside in its entirety.

The surface of Venus is approximately 860 degrees, even on its nightside. Wood said, "It is so hot that the rocky surface of Venus is visibly glowing, like a piece of iron pulled from a forge." WISPR was able to pick up a range of wavelengths from 470 nanometers to 800 nanometers. Some of the light detected is near-infrared, or wavelengths we are unable to see, but can sense as heat. Others are in the visible range, between 380 nanometers and around 750 nanometers.

Many of us are like Woods as he summed it all up saying, "The images and video just blew me away."