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NASA embarks on two Venus missions to discover its mysterious past

NASA has selected two new missions to Venus that aim to understand the planet’s history, including how it got so hot compared to Earth and whether it was ever habitable.

The two missions were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans. The project teams will now work to finalize their requirements, designs and development plans.

The space agency is allocating approximately $500 million (£352 million) per mission for development with an expected launch window of 2028-2030.

The first mission, known as DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, and to determine if the planet ever ocean had.

The mission consists of a descending sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, taking precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway greenhouse compared to Earth’s.

It is also expected to yield the first high-resolution images of the unique geologic features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be similar to Earth’s continents, suggesting Venus has plate tectonics. 

This would be the first US-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978, and NASA said the results could reshape our understanding of the formation of terrestrial planets in our solar system.

The other mission, known as VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy), will map the surface of Venus to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it evolved so differently from Earth.

Orbiting Venus with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS will map surface elevations across nearly the entire planet to create 3D topography reconstructions and confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus.

VERITAS will also map infrared emissions from the surface of Venus to determine the rock type, which is largely unknown, and to understand whether active volcanoes release water vapor into the atmosphere.

“We are renewing our planetary science program with an intense exploration of a world that NASA has not visited in more than 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science.

“Using advanced technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we are ushering in a new decade for Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a greenhouse.

Our goals are profound. It’s not just about understanding planetary evolution and habitability in our own solar system, as well as transcending these boundaries into exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of ​​research for NASA.

” Last year, an international team of scientists discovered phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus that they thought could indicate the existence of some form of life on the planet.