Just days after NASA announced it would send two missions to study Venus, the European Space Agency has joined the party.
On Thursday, the ESA said it will send a probe known as EnVision to study “Earth’s evil twins,” targeting a launch in the early 2030s.
NASA’s missions to the second planet in the solar system, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, will be launched within the next 10 years.
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“A new era awaits us in the exploration of our closest but completely different solar system neighbor,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, in a statement. statement.
“Along with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program on this enigmatic planet well into the next decade.”
In 2019, researchers said Venus may have had stable temperatures in the past and could have had “liquid water” for 2 to 3 billion years, similar to Earth.
About 700 million years ago, it underwent a “dramatic transformation” – possibly due to volcanic eruptions – that completely changed the planet and resulted in what is now considered an infernal atmosphere.
Venus currently has a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit, and in some parts of the planet the ground is glowing red.
It also rotates backwards, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east.
The European Space Agency said it will send a probe known as Envision to study Venus, following NASA’s announcement earlier this month.
The mission, targeting a launch in the early 2030s, will help explain why Venus turned into a boiling hot planet, sometimes referred to as ‘Earth’s evil twin’
Both space agencies will work together on their respective missions, especially instrument sharing.
“All three missions are very complementary,” Dr. Philippa Mason, an Envision scientific team member from Imperial College London, UK, BBC news.
“EnVision’s VenSAR will provide a unique perspective with its focused studies of the Venusian surface, enriching the Venus exploration roadmap,” Adriana Ocampo, EnVision Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. separate statement released by NASA.
EnVision is expected to focus on the nature of Venus, looking at the planet’s “tesserae,” the planetary equivalent of Earth’s continents.
It will also study the planet’s underground layers and check for trace gases in the atmosphere, looking for signs of active volcanic activity.
“ESA’s EnVision mission will provide unparalleled high-resolution imaging and polarimetry capabilities,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
EnVision (pictured) could launch as early as 2031, but could also go into orbit in 2032 or 2033, the ESA said
EnVision will take about 15 months to reach Venus and then orbit the planet for 16 months
EnVision can orbit Venus in 92 minutes at an altitude between 220 km and 540 km
“High-resolution images of many dynamic processes on Mars have profoundly changed the way we thought about the Red Planet, and images at similar scales have the potential to do the same for Venus.”
From here, the ESA moves into the “definition” phase of the project, finalizing the orbiter’s design and instruments.
A contractor will then be selected to build and test EnVision, with the BBC reporting that Airbus UK is “in a strong position” to assemble the final probe.
The earliest launch is 2031, with 2032 and 2033 also options for the 15-month journey.
EnVision will help researchers discover why Venus is so different from Earth, whether it is still volcanically active, and whether it can teach us anything about planets beyond the solar system
After arriving at Venus, it will orbit the planet for 16 months and enter a “quasi-polar” orbit with an altitude between 220 km and 540 km that travels around the planet in 92 minutes, the ESA added.
The first of NASA’s two missions, DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will measure the atmosphere of Venus to understand how it formed and evolved and to determine if there ever was an ocean.
It will also look for noble gases – such as helium, neon, argon and krypton – in its atmosphere and discover why it is a “hothouse runaway” compared to Earth.
The other mission, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) will map the surface of Venus and look at its geologic history in an attempt to figure out why it evolved so differently from Earth.
It will use a synthetic aperture radar and “map surface elevations across almost the entire planet to create 3D reconstructions of topography” to see if plate tectonics and volcanic activity are still occurring on the planet, NASA added.
In 2020, scientists caused a stir when they said traces of phosphine gas, a colorless gas naturally produced mainly by certain microorganisms in the absence of oxygen, were discovered.
However, those hopes may have been dashed when a separate study said it was not phosphine that was detected, but “just” sulfur dioxide.
CARBON DIOXIDE AND SULFURIC ACID DROPS IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF VENUS
The atmosphere of Venus is mostly carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets.
The thick atmosphere traps heat from the sun, resulting in surface temperatures over 470 °C (880 °F).
The atmosphere has many layers with different temperatures.
At the level where the clouds are located, about 50 km above the surface, it is about the same temperature as on the Earth’s surface.
As Venus moves forward in its orbit around the sun as it slowly spins backward on its axis, the highest level of clouds zips around the planet every four Earth days.
They are powered by hurricane-force winds at about 224 miles (360 km) per hour.
Atmospheric lightning bolts illuminate these fast-moving clouds.
Speeds in the clouds decrease with the height of the clouds, and on the surface they are estimated to be only a few miles (km) per hour.
On the ground, it would look like a very hazy, cloudy day on Earth, and the atmosphere is so heavy it’s like you’re a mile deep underwater.