NASA releases new images of Venus' surface taken by Parker Solar Probe

Peer through our sister planet's thick clouds.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Last December, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe made headlines around the world as the first-ever spacecraft to "touch" the Sun.

Now, it's back on the news again, this time for capturing some mesmerizing images of the surface of Venus, according to a NASA press release.

The images have been put together by NASA to create a clear video of Venus’ entire nightside.

Venus images captured through thick clouds

Venus's surface is shrouded in heavy clouds making it difficult to see under normal conditions. However, Parker used its Wide-Field Imager (WISPR) to see through the clouds and capture the planet's entire nightside on its third and fourth flybys of the planet. These were done in July of 2020 and February of 2021.

“We’re thrilled with the science 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 planet's evolution

These images do so much more than provide an interesting video. They help scientists understand more about Venus’ surface geology, its mineral make-up, and how the planet evolved over time. 

The pictures may also contribute to answering one crucial question: how did Venus, a planet rather similar to Earth, end up so deserted while Earth bloomed? Research has shown that some 700 million years ago, Venus may have had more temperate conditions and liquid water that was capable of sustaining life. 

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“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,” said Brian Wood, lead author on the new study and physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. “Now, we finally are seeing the surface in visible wavelengths for the first time from space.”

Parker's success in taking such clear images has inspired scientists to turn on the imaging instruments of other spacecraft as they pass by Venus. The ESA (European Space Agency) BepiColombo mission and the ESA and NASA Solar Orbiter mission are both now set to gather data during their flybys scheduled in the coming years.