While the focus of space enthusiasts continues to be on Mars, let’s not forget that the American Parker mission periodically visits Venus, thus adjusting its orbital parameters on its way to the Sun. Parker last approached the planet closest to us on February 20th. Data and images from this Venus flyby will be retrieved in a few months but today’s focus is on something different.
Astronomers working with the Parker solar probe have published a photograph of the night side of Venus taken during the probe’s third gravitational maneuver near the planet. The picture includes the largest mountain region on the planet, the night glow of the atmosphere, and the tracks of dust particles.
Parker Solar Probe: Mission Goals
Parker has been in space for over two years, and the probe’s goal is to measure the main characteristics of the solar wind and solar atmosphere along its trajectory. At the same time, the apparatus approaches the Sun more and more with each new revolution around our star.
Parker has already obtained many unique scientific results, for example, it showed the movement of the solar wind, helped to understand the mechanisms of acceleration of particles near the Sun, and for the first time discovered charged particles that are born on the border between the fast and slow solar winds.
Despite the fact that the main object for the probe’s research is the Sun, Venus plays a significant role in its operation: in total, the apparatus will make a gravity assist maneuver near the planet seven times to correct its trajectory.
These passages give scientists the opportunity to study Venus. On July 6, 2020, the probe came closest to Venus for the third time, and on July 11, the WISPR (Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) optical telescope received an unusual image of the night side of the planet from a distance of 12,380 kilometers from it.
In principle, the instrument is designed to photograph the solar corona and inner heliosphere in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum, but it is clear that it can be used to study Venus. Nevertheless, the team itself is surprised by the capabilities of WISPR and the applicability of the Venus surveillance camera.
What can you see in this Venus image?
The right side of the photo is filled with stars, and the left is occupied by Venus. The dark spot in the center of the image is Aphrodite’s Land, the largest mountainous region on the surface of Venus.
The bright tracks in the image are generated by cosmic rays, cosmic dust particles that reflect sunlight, and particles from the probe itself.
Last but not least, the thin, bright area around the edge of a planet could be a nightglow in the upper atmosphere of Venus, created by oxygen atoms.
During the fourth Venus gravity assist, which was successfully completed on February 20, Parker flew at a minimum distance of 2385 kilometers from the surface of Venus and received a series of new images of the planet’s night side. Scientists are expected to receive and process this data by the end of April.
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• Frazier, S. (2021, February 24). Parker solar Probe Offers stunning view of Venus.
• Griffin, A. (2021, February 25). Nasa releases astonishing image of Venus that INCLUDES ‘SURPRISING
• Roulette, J. (2021, February 25). Sun probe SURPRISES NASA with incredible photo of Venus.
• Strickland, A. (2021, February 24). Amazing close-up of VENUS captured by NASA parker Solar Probe.