Sunday, June 13

New NASA missions will study the past and present of Venus

(CNN Español) — The NASA announced this wednesday two missions to study Venus, a planet that may have been habitable, with an ocean and a climate similar to Earth. The DAVINCI + mission will analyze the atmosphere of Venus and VERITAS will map its surface.

According to NASA, these two missions “aim to understand how Venus became a hellish world, when it has so many other characteristics similar to ours.” Venus is believed to have been able to have stable temperatures and to have housed liquid water for billions of years before an event triggered drastic changes on the planet.

Currently, Venus is a mostly dead planet with a toxic atmosphere that is 90 times thicker than ours, according to the agency, while its surface temperatures reach 854 degrees, a temperature capable of melting lead.

The DAVINCI + mission (Investigation of Venus in the deep atmosphere of noble gases, chemistry and images) and the VERITAS mission (Emissivity, Radioscience, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy of Venus) were the finalist projects of four mission concepts that NASA chose in February 2020 as part of the Discovery 2019 program.

Each mission has a budget of approximately US $ 500 million for its development, and each mission is expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.

Exploring the atmosphere of Venus

The DAVINCI + mission, which was named after Leonardo da Vinci, would be in charge of sending a spacecraft to Venus to explore its past and present atmosphere. The last time the US explored Venus was in 1978 with the Prioneer Venus mission.

According to NASA, the DAVINCI + mission will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to determine if the planet ever had an ocean. According to Jim Garvin, NASA’s Goddard chief scientist and principal investigator for the DAVINCI + mission, this mission would allow them to compare the planets Venus, Earth, and Mars, which may have been similar at birth but evolved dramatically differently.

To understand the evolution of Venus, the DAVINCI + mission will send a descending sphere that will dive through the atmosphere of the red planet to make measurements of the noble gases and other elements in order to understand “why the atmosphere of Venus is a greenhouse out of control in comparison with the terrestrial one ”, indicated NASA in a statement.

The DAVINCI + mission also aims to send the first high-resolution images of the unique geological features on Venus, which according to NASA “may be comparable to Earth’s continents, suggesting that Venus has plate tectonics.”

Scientists reveal how long a day lasts on Venus 0:53

The geological history of Venus

The goal of the VERITAS mission is to map the surface of Venus to understand why the planet Venus developed so differently from Earth.

“You have these two planetary bodies, Earth and Venus, which started out almost the same but have followed two completely different evolutionary paths, but we don’t know why,” said Suzanne Smrekar, VERITAS principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, for its acronym in English).

Using synthetic aperture radar, the VERITAS mission will be able to trace the elevations of the surface of almost the entire planet and then create 3D reconstructions of its topography to confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are active on Venus. VERITAS will also determine whether active volcanoes on Venus are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.

VERITAS will house the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, which could make it easier for spacecraft to safely navigate autonomously around the Red Planet and other deep space destinations.

“It’s amazing how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us a lot about the planet – from the clouds in its sky, through the volcanoes on its surface to its core,” said Tom Wagner, a scientist at the NASA’s Discovery Program in a statement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

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