More than three decades have passed since NASA last sent a probe to Venus.
But in the next nine years, two NASA missions will return to our nearest planetary neighbor, according to the agency’s new administrator, Bill Nelson.
Nelson announced in March that a mission, called DAVINCI +, will send a probe all the way to the Venusian surface to measure what the atmosphere of Venus is made of. The other, a mission called VERITAS, will map the surface of the planet in unprecedented detail.
“These two sister missions aim to understand how Venus has become a hellish world capable of melting lead to the surface,” Nelson said. “They will offer the entire scientific community the opportunity to investigate a planet that we have not been on for more than 30 years.”
Both DAVINCI + and VERITAS are the winners of the ninth NASA Discovery program competition, which has funded 20 missions since 1992, including the Mars Insight lander, which is measuring earthquakes on the red planet. The losing competitors were missions to the moon of Jupiter, Io, and the moon of Neptune, Triton. Each successful Venus mission will receive $ 500 million in funding from NASA. Probes are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.
Solving the mystery of the infernal landscape of Venus
Venus is the hot and infernal twin of the Earth. The two planets are similar in size, density and surface composition, yet Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system. Its average surface temperature is a 880 degrees Fahrenheit bubbles (471 degrees Celsius).
Nelson said the upcoming missions could help scientists understand what causes the extreme temperatures of Venus.
“We hope that these missions will foster our understanding of how the Earth has evolved, and why it is currently habitable when others in our solar system are not,” he said.
DAVINCI + stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging. This mission will send a probe that flashes into the atmosphere of Venus to measure what gases and elements are present.
It will also examine whether Venus has ever had an ocean and will take high-resolution photos of geological features called tiles. Tesserae are on Venus as the continents are on Earth. Scientists hope to discern whether Venus has ever had tectonic plates like our planet.
Meanwhile, VERITAS will remain in the orbit of Venus and map the surface of the planet. The name means Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy. The mission is to give 3D reconstructions of the topography of Venus and detailed observations of the types of rocks that make up its surface. The scientists behind VERITAS also hope to study whether Venus has active volcanoes that could release water vapor into the atmosphere.
The two missions come amid a new debate among astronomers over whether life is possible on or above Venus. Although the planet’s carbon dioxide-filled atmosphere appears to make it inhospitable to life, a September study suggested that the clouds surrounding Venus could harbor microbial aliens.
That’s why researchers have found traces of phosphine – a gas typically produced by microbes on Earth – at the top of the levels of Venus. However, a follow-up study he suggested that the trace elements were not phosphine, but rather sulfur dioxide, casting doubt on the idea that Venus might be habitable.
These new missions on the planet could help resolve that debate.
“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 through the volcanoes on its surface, all the way to the heart,” said Tom Wagner, a scientist from the NASA Discovery Program, said in a statement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”
The moons of Jupiter and Neptune will have to wait
To give priority to the Venus missions, NASA will transmit two other proposals, both of which would have sent spacecraft to the moons of the outer solar system.
One of the Discovery finalists that NASA didn’t choose is called Io Volcano Observer. The proposal was to send a spacecraft to the most active volcanic place in our solar system: the Moon I of Jupiter. The mission asked the probe to surround Io, flying close enough to study its eruptions and look for signs of a magma ocean beneath the surface.
The second rejected mission, called Trident, would have explored Neptune Triton’s icy moon. That ice world has an atmosphere that can create snow, and water feathers can even erupt to its surface from a deep inland ocean. In one passage, Trident would have looked for signs of a similar ocean, which could host life.
This isn’t necessarily the end for these mission concepts, but the researchers behind them will have to wait a few years before they can submit proposals to the Discovery program.
In a Q&A after the announcement, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said the two Venus missions had gone through the Discovery process without being selected, and that their proposals were stronger because of this. , according to Jeff Foust of SpaceNews.
“These are the best missions. That’s why we chose them,” Zurbuchen said he said.