A newly released image from Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe unexpectedly shows surface features on Venus. It is a surprising result because Venus is permanently covered in clouds that should block out any view of the surface at optical wavelengths.
Previous spacecraft have resorted to radar or infrared cameras to map out the terrain. The image was taken in July 2020 when the spacecraft flew by Venus en route to the sun. During the encounter, the spacecraft’s Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) targeted the planet’s night-time hemisphere, while 12,380km (7,693 miles) away. Instead of clouds, it showed light and dark surface features. The largest of these areas has been identified as Aphrodite Terra, a highland region near Venus’s equator.
Scientists think that either the camera is registering infrared light, even though it was not designed to do so, or there is an unanticipated window in the Venusian clouds that lets out certain faint wavelengths of visible light. Having taken the picture of the planet’s nightside, this light was not overwhelmed by sunlight reflecting off the clouds. More images were captured for analysis on 20 February 2021, during another Venus flyby.