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Parker looks at Venus

Venus as seen by the Parker Solar Probe
Click for full image.

During its July 2020 fly-by of Venus, the Parker Solar Probe used its wide field camera to snap a picture of the planet, cropped and reduced to post here on the right.

The photo surprised the scientists in that it apparently was able to detect some major surface features through Venus’ thick cloud cover.

WISPR is designed to take images of the solar corona and inner heliosphere in visible light, as well as images of the solar wind and its structures as they approach and fly by the spacecraft. At Venus, the camera detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. The feature appears dark because of its lower temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) cooler than its surroundings.

That aspect of the image took the team by surprise, said Angelos Vourlidas, the WISPR project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who coordinated a WISPR imaging campaign with Japan’s Venus-orbiting Akatsuki mission. “WISPR is tailored and tested for visible light observations. We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through to the surface.”

“WISPR effectively captured the thermal emission of the Venusian surface,” said Brian Wood, an astrophysicist and WISPR team member from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “It’s very similar to images acquired by the Akatsuki spacecraft at near-infrared wavelengths.”

This surprising observation sent the WISPR team back to the lab to measure the instrument’s sensitivity to infrared light. If WISPR can indeed pick up near-infrared wavelengths of light, the unforeseen capability would provide new opportunities to study dust around the Sun and in the inner solar system. If it can’t pick up extra infrared wavelengths, then these images — showing signatures of features on Venus’ surface — may have revealed a previously unknown “window” through the Venusian atmosphere.

The streaks in the picture come from cosmic rays.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

3 comments

  • Tom Biggar

    It seems that NASA still has problems with metric to English conversions. 85F = 47.2C cooler.

  • Peter Monta

    The streaks are many pixels long, so I’m doubtful about cosmic rays. Is the Sun nearly in the plane of the image sensor? Solar protons? On images taken from Earth, cosmic ray hits are usually only a few pixels long, and many are pointlike, because of the even distribution of incoming rays over the hemisphere.

  • Max

    Let’s see if I have this right, the near infrared (700 nm) thermal light emitted from the 867°F surface heat (some sources recently measured hotter than this) in the form of longwave infrared radiation is somehow penetrating an atmosphere 92 times thicker than earth, made of mostly carbon dioxide? This is impossible, no windows can exist!!! carbon dioxide makes up 1/400 of 1% on earth and is causing a runaway greenhouse affect…

    That’s sarcasm.

    While making witches brew, homemade root beer for Halloween this year, I used carbon dioxide (dry ice) and performed a few experiments.
    First I surrounded my arm with dense/solid dry ice so the thermal energy from my arm can be absorbed 999,600% more efficiently than our atmosphere and reradiated/reflected by 100% carbon dioxide to make my arm warmer. Somehow, it didn’t work. Spectacular fail.
    I took a chunk outside and placed it on a stick of wood in the sun, even though it was cold, I was expecting it to absorb so much infrared radiation to set the wood on fire, being concentrated CO2. Nope, still extremely cold. Perhaps it was the condensed water vapor out of the air?

    Apparently the laws of thermodynamics say heat can only come from a hotter object to a cooler object. Does that mean colder atmosphere cannot reflect heat back down to the surface? (don’t tell the pretend scientist who come up with a consensus to destroy our lives)(Science, not by cause and affect, but by the vote of the political majority…)

    So I put leftover dry ice in a thick plastic bag my new mattress came in, I climbed in and rolled all the air out of it. As the dry ice turned into 100% carbon dioxide vapor, blowing up the plastic bag, I thought it would make my body warmer. I felt no difference. I waddled outside where it was 30° Expecting for it to keep me warm or at least prolong my outside exposure like a coat, but it did not. Experiment was a failure.
    I have done similar experimentation with water vapor in the past, everyone knows clouds during the day makes it colder, but clouds at night prevent heat loss… What happens when you increase the water vapor to 100%? Jumping in the lake did not make me warmer. And being in a snow cave was better than being in a cold wind, but it was never warm. Not even close. No matter how much heat the water absorbed.
    Even my own sweat always makes me colder, not warmer. Did I do something wrong?

    What’s my point? There is no evidence that carbon dioxide causes heat retention any more or less than normal atmosphere. This picture showing details on the surface would not be possible if carbon dioxide acted as a heat blocker.
    The surface heat did not come from the sun as it is much hotter on the surface than the sunlight hitting the tops of Venus’s atmosphere. In fact it’s hotter than mercury on the equator at noon at near 800°F. (Mercury averages about 250°)
    But then we know the sun is not the source of heat because even though it’s very hot, and Venus is very hot, there’s a space at the top of the atmosphere which is measured well below 200° below zero that would be impossible for heat to pass through without this layer becoming the same temperature. (that pesky thermal dynamic thing) Besides, the nightside of Venus which lasts nearly 5 months long is the same temperature as the day side… Depending on elevation. That’s right, the deeper elevation the hotter it becomes.
    Heat is largely a function of a column of air pushing down generating friction at the bottom of the column. The more atmospheric pressure, the greater the heat. Reproducible every time it is measured regardless of day or night, or what planet with an atmosphere that you are on. The thicker the atmosphere, the greater the heat. And yet this well-known affect is in none of the climate models even though it holds the world records for sudden temperature changes. (Look up Chinook winds…)
    I love it when little Scientific anomalies like this provides evidence through to the main stream without exposing their significance to the overall science community without raising flags until it’s too late to cover up.
    Unfortunately, chicken Little has a lot of powerful friends.

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