11/03/2014 09:57 GMT | Updated 11/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Rainbow On Venus: ESA Captures 'Glory' As Seen Through Clouds Of Sulphuric Acid

NASA aren't the only ones who can take amazing pictures of space. The European Space Agency are pretty decent at taking an Instagram of something profound very far away too.

What you're looking at below is technically known as a "glory".

It's sort of like a rainbow. Also, it's on Venus.


The image, taken by ESA's Venus Express spacecraft in orbit around our nearest neighbour, is the first of its kind taken on another planet.

Glories on Earth occur when light shines on cloud droplets of water. On Venus, where the atmosphere is made up instead of sulphuric acid, the effect is the same but the results are very different.

When scientists were able to image the clouds on Venus with the sun directly behind the craft, they were able to capture the sight for themselves.

It shows cloud tops 70km above the planet (on 24 July 2011) as seen from 6,000 km away.

The brightness and colours of the rings is different to that seen in rainbows on Earth, but are similarly vibrant. The Glory itself is 1,200 km wide.

ESA said:

"The variations of brightness of the rings of the observed glory is different than that expected from clouds of only sulphuric acid mixed with water, suggesting that other chemistry may be at play.

One idea is that the cause is the “UV-absorber”, an unknown atmospheric component responsible for mysterious dark markings seen in the cloud tops of Venus at ultraviolet wavelengths. More investigation is needed to draw a firm conclusion."