Launching something into space requires a whole heck of a lot of preparation; you're not really meant to be surprised when you send something up there, at least not in the workaday course of things.
But the folks at NASA got one heck of a pleasant shock when one of their probes recently zipped by Venus:
NASA's Parker Solar Probe has taken its first visible light images of the surface of Venus from space.
Smothered in thick clouds, Venus' surface is usually shrouded from sight. But in two recent flybys of the planet, Parker used its Wide-Field Imager, or WISPR, to image the entire nightside in wavelengths of the visible spectrum – the type of light that the human eye can see – and extending into the near-infrared.
The images, combined into a video, reveal a faint glow from the surface that shows distinctive features like continental regions, plains, and plateaus. A luminescent halo of oxygen in the atmosphere can also be seen surrounding the planet.
That's all cool enough. But note well: The probe wasn't originally supposed to capture surface photos of the planet.
"The objective was to measure the speed of the clouds," said WISPR project scientist Angelos Vourlidas, co-author on the new paper and researcher at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
But instead of just seeing clouds, WISPR also saw through to the surface of the planet. The images were so striking that the scientists turned on the cameras again during the fourth pass in February 2021. During the 2021 flyby, the spacecraft's orbit lined up perfectly for WISPR to image Venus' nightside in entirety.
"The images and video just blew me away," Wood said.
Here's a sample shot:
Remember that the Parker Solar Probe late last year became the first spacecraft to ever "touch" the sun:
Keep it up, NASA, we're loving it!
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