It’s time to revisit Venus, our closest planetary neighbour.
Two new missions to Earth’s twin have been greenlit by NASA via the agency’s Discovery Program. These missions, which were the two finalists selected from four concepts NASA highlighted in February 2020, will shed light on how Venus became the inhospitable world it is today, despite the fact that 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, including an ocean and climate similar to Earth — but something happened to turn it into a planet with temperatures hot enough to melt lead.
Venus likely maintained stable temperatures and hosted liquid water for billions of years before an event triggered drastic changes in the planet, according to a 2019 study. The study author, physical scientist Michael Way at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science in New York City, also coauthored a 2016 study about climate and oceans on Venus in its past.
Now, Venus is a mostly dead planet with a toxic atmosphere 90 times thicker than ours and surface temperatures that reach 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius).
Only two NASA missions have visited Venus — Pioneer in 1978 and Magellan in the early ’90s.
The ocean was first suggested by NASA’s Pioneer mission. But given its placement as the second planet from the sun, Venus wasn’t considered conducive to sustaining an ocean.”It is astounding 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 down to its very core,” said Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist, in a statement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.” (CNN)