NASA is returning to Venus for the first time in more than 30 years as the space agency unveiled two new $500 million missions on Wednesday that are expected to launch within the next 10 years.
As part of his State of the Agency speech, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, would go to the planet known as “Earth’s evil twin” as part of the Discovery program.
“The missions are aimed at understanding how Venus became an inferno-like world while having so many other features similar to ours — and may have been the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean- and Earth-like climate,” NASA said in a release.
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NASA returns to Venus for the first time in nearly 30 years, launching two $500 million missions
The missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, will analyze the planet’s atmosphere and surface. Venus has been compared to ‘Earth’s evil twin’ because of its extreme surface temperature
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 it ever had 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.
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.
The instruments that measure the noble gases could also determine whether phosphine indeed exists, the New York Times reported.
DAVINCI+ will also return the first high-resolution images of Venus’ tesserae, which may be comparable to Earth’s continents.
“Using advanced technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we are ushering in a new decade for Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a greenhouse,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. , in the statement.
Zurbuchen continued: “Our goals are profound. It’s not just about understanding planetary evolution and habitability in our own solar system, but also about transcending these boundaries into exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said the missions were delayed and would take advantage of “cutting-edge technologies” NASA had created over the years.
NASA recently sent two missions to Venus: the Pioneer-Venus project in 1978 and Magellan.
Magellan, who returned to the planet in August 1990, spent more than four years observing Venus until radio contact was broken on October 12, 1994.
Subsequent NASA missions have flown past Venus, including the Parker Solar Probe, which last month detected a radio signal from the planet’s atmosphere, CNN reported:.
The Japanese Akatsuki is the only spacecraft currently orbiting the planet.
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.
Venus’ surface temperature is 864 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to about 57 degrees for Earth
“It’s amazing how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in the sky through the volcanoes on the surface to its core,” Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist added. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
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.
About 700 million years ago, it underwent a “dramatic transformation” – possibly due to volcanic eruptions – that completely changed the planet.
Venus currently has a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit.
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, 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 under water.