The photo is part of a surprising twist involving a probe's camera.
Fly By Photograph
NASA's Parker Solar Probe got the souvenir of a lifetime during its trip to study the Sun last year.
The probe snapped this stunning photo of Venus on July 11, 2020, according to NASA. The photo showcases amazing details of the Venusian surface from 7,693 miles away—but one particular detail in it, released by NASA this week, has scientists excited.
The probe used its onboard Wide-field Imager (WISPR) to capture the photo. Though the instrument was designed to capture images of the sun's corona, NASA was also able to use it to capture thermal information about the planet—something they didn't know the instrument could do.
"WISPR is tailored and tested for visible light observations," explains Angelos Vourlidas, WISPR project scientist from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through the surface."
In the center of the planet, you can see a dark area identified as Aphrodite Terra, which is the largest highland area on Venus. The reason it’s darker is because it's 85 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding area. That indicates that WISPR is able to capture thermal data along with light data.
"Either way, some exciting science opportunities await us," Vourlidas adds.
Though the probe's photo was a welcome surprise to researchers, Parker's actual goal is to study the Sun. That's why it's speeding by Venus for a gravity assist seven times, as part of its seven-year mission.
The above photo was taken during its third fly-by of the planet. The probe more recently passed by Venus on February 20 on its next approach to the Sun.
Maybe a year from now we'll get another mind-blowing photo of the Venusian surface. For now, we’ll just have to settle for all the insane images from Mars Perseverance in the meantime.
READ MORE: Parker Solar Probe Offers Stunning View of Venus [NASA]