© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and the Pioneer Venus Orbiter are used in an undated composite image of the planet Venus. NASA / JPL-Caltech / Brochure via REUTERS.
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – NASA announced plans on Wednesday to launch a pair of missions to Venus between 2028 and 2030, the first in decades, to study the atmosphere and geological features of Earth’s so-called sister planet and better understand why. the two emerged. so different.
The US space agency said it was awarding about $ 500 million each to develop the two missions, dubbed DAVINCI + (short for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging) and VERITAS (an acronym for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science. , InSAR). , Topography and Spectroscopy).
DAVINCI + will measure the composition of Venus’ dense greenhouse atmosphere to better understand how it evolved, while VERITAS will map the planet’s surface from orbit to help determine its geological history, NASA said.
DAVINCI +, consisting of a flyby spacecraft and an atmospheric descent probe, is also expected to return the first high-resolution images of unique geological features on Venus called “tiles.” Scientists believe those features may be comparable to Earth’s continents and suggest that Venus has plate tectonics, according to NASA’s announcement.
The closest planetary cousin to Earth and the second planet from the sun, Venus is similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth but much hotter. Above its foreboding landscape is a thick, toxic atmosphere consisting mainly of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets.
The consequence is a runaway greenhouse effect that burns the surface of Venus at temperatures as high as 880 degrees F (471 C), hot enough to melt lead. The “air” of Venus is so dense and pressurized that it behaves more like a fluid than a gas near the surface.
Scientists believe Venus may have harbored potentially life-threatening seas of surface water, before unknown forces unleashed its extreme greenhouse effect, vaporizing its oceans.
“Venus is a ‘Rosetta Stone’ for reading the logbooks of climate change, the evolution of habitability, and what happens when a planet loses a long period of ocean surface,” James Garvin, chief scientist at the Center for Space Flight Goddard of NASA in Maryland said in a statement.
Venus has received less scientific attention lately than Mars, Earth’s closest planetary neighbor, where NASA’s roving astrobiology lab Perseverance landed in February.
“We are accelerating our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA has not visited in more than 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate science administrator, in a statement announcing the missions.
NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, which arrived at Venus in 1990, made the first global map of the surface of Venus and mapped the planet’s gravity field.
In 1994, Magellan was sent to dive to the surface of Venus to collect atmospheric data before ceasing operations. The DAVINCI + descent probe, although more sophisticated, will have a similar fate.
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