(CNN) — It’s time to revisit Venus, our closest planetary neighbor.
The NASA gave its approval to two new missions to Venus through the agency’s Discovery Program.
These missions, which were the two finalists selected from four concepts highlighted by NASA in February 2020, will shed light on how Venus became the inhospitable world that it is today, even though it shares many characteristics with Earth.
One mission would focus on the Venusian atmosphere, while the other would map the planet’s surface.
Venus may have been the first habitable world in our solar system, with an ocean and climate similar to Earth’s, but something happened to turn it into a planet with temperatures hot enough to melt lead.
Venus likely maintained stable temperatures and harbored liquid water for billions of years before an event triggered drastic changes on the planet, according to a 2019 study.
The study’s author, physical scientist Michael Way of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences in New York, also co-authored a 2016 study of the climate and oceans of Venus in its past.
Past missions to Venus
Now, Venus is a mostly dead planet, with a toxic atmosphere 90 times thicker than ours and with surface temperatures reaching 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius).
Only two NASA missions have visited Venus: Pioneer in 1978 and Magellan in the early 1990s.
NASA’s Pioneer mission first suggested an ocean on the planet. But given its location as the second planet from the sun, Venus was not considered conducive to hosting an ocean.
“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 its sky to its core, through the volcanoes on its surface,” said Tom Wagner, a scientist with the Discovery Program at NASA, in a statement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
DAVINCI + mission goes to study the atmosphere of Venus
La misión DAVINCI+ son las siglas de Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging Plus.
It would be dedicated to analyzing the atmosphere of Venus to determine how it formed and evolved. The initiative would also investigate the possibility of an ocean in the past of Venus.
The mission instruments, including the cameras, would be protected from the harsh environment of Venus by a sphere of descent. It is designed to plunge into the planet’s thick atmosphere and send the first high-resolution images of unique features of Venus. These features, called “tesserae,” can be similar to continents on Earth, meaning that Venus can have plate tectonics.
The DAVINCI + mission will be the first US-led to study the atmosphere of Venus since 1978.
A second mission: VERITAS
The next project, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), would map the rocky planet’s surface in order to clarify why it is so different from Earth. Our world is often called the twin of Venus because the planets are similar in size, but modern comparisons stop there.
The mission can also provide information on the geological history of Venus. The radar-equipped orbiter could create a 3D topography, allowing scientists to determine the volcanic activity of Venus through plate tectonic processes. The spacecraft could also study infrared emissions from the planet’s surface.
Both missions will bring with them technology demonstrations, such as the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2 to allow autonomous maneuvers of the spacecraft in VERITAS, as well as the Compact Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer, which will be in DAVINCI +, to measure ultraviolet light in the atmosphere. Venusian.
NASA’s Discovery Program, which sponsors these missions, encourages scientists and engineers to help us explore the solar system by designing ingenious new mission concepts. Since 1992, the program has supported the development of more than 20 science instruments and missions.
“We are fueling our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world NASA has not visited in over 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement.
“Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we are ushering in a new Venus decade to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a greenhouse.
«Our objectives are profound. It is not just about understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but about extending beyond these limits to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging research area for NASA, ”said Zurbuchen.
Each mission will receive an endowment of US $ 500 million for its development, and will be launched between 2028 and 2030.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism