After decades of gazing longingly at Mars, global space agencies are finally turning to Venus.
Last week, NASA announced that it had chosen two new missions to visit Venus – one, called VERITAS, to orbit the planet and another, called DAVINCI +, to dive to its surface. Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) throws its hat in the ring.
ESA revealed on Thursday that it was sending its own probe to Venus, an orbiter called EnVision. The mission aims to study how the planet’s atmosphere, surface and interior interact to create the hellish pressure cooker it is today. Together, the three probes herald a renaissance of Venetian science.
“A new era in the exploration of our closest but very different solar system neighbor awaits us,” Günther Hasinger, ESA Scientific Director, said in a press release. “With the Venus missions recently announced by NASA, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program on this enigmatic planet over the next decade.”
NASA missions are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030, and ESA’s probe in the early 2030s.
The climate of Venus turned hellish a long time ago, but it may have welcomed life
Venus looked a lot like Earth. The two planets are roughly the same size and are made of the same material. Scientists believe that Venus might even have had oceans in the distant past.
But something happened that drastically changed the climate of Venus. Today, it is the hottest planet in our solar system, thick with yellow clouds of sulfuric acid that trap heat. Its average surface temperature is 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius) – hot enough to melt lead – and its crushing atmospheric pressure is more than 90 times that of Earth.
The upcoming missions could help scientists understand how Venus became such an extreme environment, whether it was hospitable to life, and whether its volcanoes are still erupting.
The world’s interest in Venus was rekindled in September, when a new study suggested the planet’s clouds could harbor microbial aliens.
That’s because researchers found traces of phosphine – a gas typically produced by microbes on Earth – in the upper part of Venus’ clouds. However, a follow-up study suggested that these trace elements were not phosphine, but rather sulfur dioxide, casting doubt on the idea that Venus could be habitable.
These new missions could help settle this 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 to the volcanoes on its surface to its core. same, “Tom Wagner, a scientist with the NASA Discovery Program, said in a statement about the NASA missions. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”