The first visible light photographs of Venus surface have been obtained by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Parker observed the entire nightside in visible wavelengths and even into the near-infrared in two recent flybys using its Wide-Field Imager (WISPR) instrument. The photographs show a faint glow, exposing characteristic features of the planet — as well as a halo of oxygen, according to an agency release.
The longest visible wavelengths pass through clouds, which block the majority of visible light coming from the surface. The red light is lost in the sunlight throughout the day, but WISPR cameras were able to identify the glow from the surface heat. The cameras detected wavelengths ranging from 470 nanometers to 800 nanometers, some of which are visible and others which are near-infrared.
The Venera 9 lander provided the first images of the surface in 1975. In the 1990s, NASA’s Magellan mission used radar to make the first surface maps, while the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Akatsuki satellite obtained infrared photos in 2016. The latest WISPR photos, according to NASA, “expand the observations to red wavelengths at the boundary of what humans can see,” adding to prior discoveries.