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Venus Surface Mapped with Visible Light

Image is courtesy of NASA.

According to NASA, The discovery of Venus’s geological surface with the use of visible light was led by Brian Wood, a physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, USA.

The NASA Parker Solar Probe produced the first-ever clear photos of the geological surface of Venus outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Clouds generally hide the surface of Venus; however, the Parker Probe was able to utilize WISPR when on its second flyby of Venus to capture the planet's nightside wavelengths from the visible spectrum. The nightside wavelengths reach into the infrared region. When the photos were merged into a video, a low glow from the face of the planet exhibited unique elements such as plateaus. A luminous circular region of oxygen was also observed around Venus. WSPIR was created to distinguish light elements in the Sun’s atmosphere and wind. It was first used to calculate the cloud speeds of Venus; however, was also able to see the surface through clouds. Clouds hinder visible light from the face of Venus, but visible wavelengths that are able to penetrate through are those that are the longest, usually close to near-infrared wavelengths. During the day, the red light isn’t seen due to the bright sunlight that shines through the top of the clouds. WISPR was able to see the dim glow of heat during the night from the face of Venus.

Image is courtesy of NASA.

WISPR photos of Venus were first captured in July 2020 when Parker was on its third journey around the planet. At the fourth flyby this month, Parker’s probe was positioned perfectly for WISPR to capture Venus’s nighttime surface. When WISPR passed by, it also received wavelengths from 470 to 800 nanometers. Some of these wavelengths were presented as near-infrared and others as visible light.

The WISPR images will allow for a good grasp of the geology and minerals of Venus. When substances are heated, they emit light wavelengths. New and old merging of images from Venus will allow scientists to study a wide range of wavelengths, which may aid in identifying minerals on Venus. Looking at wavelengths will also help scientists better understand habitable planets and planetary evolution. All planets that exist today look very different from when they were first formed. WISPR photos may also generate indications as to how volcanoes may have affected planets and their atmospheres, thus resulting in their current state. Photos collected from Parker will add to observations of previous photos taken of Venus’ visible red wavelengths, as stated by NASA.

Many more spacecrafts such as NASA’s Davinci and Veritas will be heading to Venus in the future to help photograph and sample the atmosphere and study infrared wavelengths.

What Other missions have NASA’s Parker probe carried out?

Image is courtesy of NASA.

According to the same source, NASA’s Parker probe is also the first spacecraft to provide images of Venus’ Orbital dust ring in a 360-degree range around the Sun. WISPR instrument was first used to see the solar wind, however, Venus’ dust ring was also uncovered as a bright band of dust particles clustered together. When Parker carried out rolling maneuvers and changed the direction of its cameras, Venus’ bright dust ring was noticed. It is thought that the dust orbit is approximately 10% more heavier than its neighboring areas.

Previous observations were made of Venus’ dust ring by other spacecrafts. The findings permitted scientists to make models of the origin of Venus’ dust ring. The Parker Probe is expected to collect data in the future on the long-hypothesized dust free zone where dust is heated and then incinerated by the Sun. Parker probe had previously found areas of thin dust, which would help prove theories of Sun and dust particle interplay. It would also help examine distant bodies within the solar system as dust plays a role in visibility of objects.

The origin of the dust is something that scientists are very interested in because it is still unknown and recent data shows that dust in the atmosphere may be from Mars.

Definitions of key terms

Solar wind

The release of hot plasma from the Corona. Because the plasma is repeatedly heated, the Sun’s gravity cannot constrain it. This hot plasma follows the magnetic field lines that radiate away from the Sun. The magnetic field lines get tangled over the polar areas when the Sun rotates, and as a result, a steady gust of wind is created. The solar wind brings the Sun’s magnetic field when it radiates out. The solar wind travels through the solar system and moves at an extremely fast rate of more than one million miles per hour.

Image is courtesy of NASA.

Light Wavelength

Distance from one peak of light to the next (9). Light wavelengths vary in size and color. Light wavelengths between 380 and 700 nanometers are detectable by the human eye. The color from wavelengths occurs when light passes through a prism. It breaks up into its colors producing broken up waves of light. The weakest light wave is red at 700 nanometers, and the strongest is violet at 380 nanometers in length. Changes in color occur when things change temperature and release heat, according to NASA.

Image is courtesy of NASA.


A type of spacecraft that does not carry astronauts and that collects scientific data to send back to Earth. Space probes liftoff form Earth and have many instruments attached to it to help collect scientific information. Probes sample material and measure matter in space (2). They are able to withstand extreme temperatures and pressures in the solar system (15). Probes are able to study planets, stars, moons, and galaxies. The first probe to visit space was Sputnik 1 which was launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union.

Image is courtesy of NASA.

Article Author: Fariah Sandhu

Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Sherilyn Wen

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