Two missions, the launch date somewhere between 2028 and 2030, cost nearly $500 million (410 million euros) each. This week, NASA revealed its plan to send new unmanned probes to nearby Venus, the hot hell world in the cosmic backyard about which we still know surprisingly little.
It’s been a while since NASA launched a mission to Venus. The Magellan spacecraft departed on May 4, 1989, when President George H.W. Bush replaced Ronald Reagan just a few months earlier, the Berlin Wall still standing and crumbling. eternal flame Van de Bangles was topping the Dutch Top 40.
Meanwhile, the European ESA sent another probe – Venus Express, departed in 2005 – which took measurements until 2015, and Japan made a failed attempt in 2010, but the focus on neighboring Venus pales in comparison to our other neighbour, Mars. In the same period, 24 missions to the Red Planet departed.
Hell inside the hospital
This is while the scientific attractiveness of both planets is comparable. Where today Mars is a rusty red desert world, Venus is an inhospitable hell, with a surface temperature of about 450 degrees Celsius — hot enough to melt lead. But for both planets, the burning question is: How did that happen?
It’s a question that also teaches us more about Earth. Because, like our planet, perhaps both neighbors in the past were moist blue oases with oceans and conditions suitable for (primitive) life. NASA researchers have suggested that Venus could have been habitable for billions of years Including in 2019. Until roughly 700 million years ago, a catastrophe occurred, a massive amount of carbon dioxide stored in the Earth was released, the climate went completely insane, and the global warming effect reduced the planet to the uninhabitable place we see through our telescopes today.
Or, well: unlivable on the surface, anyway. Some scientists have speculated for some time that microbial life may still be present in Venus’ upper air layers, floating among extraterrestrial clouds. Last year, radio astronomers thought they had picked up a sign of such life in Venus’s atmosphere: phosphine, a substance that only such microbes can make. Meanwhile, most experts agree that this finding was an unfortunate lump of measurement noise, errors in the experiment, and a huge dash of unwarranted optimism.
NASA’s two new missions – the names DAVINCI+ and VERITAS – will map the composition of Venus’s atmosphere and the planet’s surface, respectively. By doing so, they want to reveal the geological history of the planet, reconstruct the sudden climatic catastrophe, and determine if Venus actually has an ocean.
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