Venus, our “sister” planet, is Earth sized with an atmosphere that some scientists say has been overlooked as we explore the solar system to learn more about Earth.
It’s been 35 years since two Soviet missions explored the atmosphere and surface of Venus. The four images below are the only ones we have of the surface of Venus.
Recent missions have been led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The ESA mission was the Venus Express orbiter which entered orbit in 2006 and was last heard from in November 2014.
The JAXA Akatsuki orbiter failed to make orbit in 2010 and spent another five years making it back before succeeding in entering orbit on December 7, 2015. The mission is ongoing.
What do we know about Venus
Venus has no seasons and takes 225 days to circle the sun. Because Venus spins backwards, one day lasts 243 Earth days with its sun rising in the west and setting in the east.
According to NASA “the planet’s surface temperature is about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to melt lead” and scientists believe water once existed on the surface.
To learn more about the history and some of the unique qualities of Venus, NASA’s Jim Garvin of the Goddard Space Flight Center, recently narrated a fascinating 30 minute video which were featuring in this episode of Science Weekend.
This is how they introduce the video:
“Venus, our nearby ‘sister’ planet, beckons today as a compelling target for exploration that may connect the objects in our own solar system to those discovered around nearby stars. Yet, humanity’s exploration of Venus has been hampered by confusion, technological challenges, and lack of tenacity. In an era that will soon witness a return of people (women and men) to the surface of the Moon and the arrival of samples from the planet Mars to Earth laboratories, together with space tourism and perhaps a new space-based economy, Venus stands out as the least explored of the planets in our solar system. That must change. Building – but woefully incomplete – evidence suggests Venus may have harboured oceans as recently as 1 billion years ago, yet today is as uninhabitable as any location we have explored in the past 60 years of the current space age. Thus, Venus may offer glimpses of Earth’s distant past, while holding insights into our own planet’s environmental destiny.”
“As humanity pushes the frontiers of exploration here on Earth and commemorates the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s circumnavigation, a new ‘frontier’ looms – that of Venus and its massive, chemically complex atmosphere, hellishly hot surface, and mysterious mountainous regions. It is conceivable that over the next decade or so, robotic emissaries from Earth will return to Venus to unravel her untold secrets and illuminate her Earth-relevant history. These missions of exploration will connect Earth and Mars to our sister world, and arm scientists with perspectives needed to understand how ocean-bearing planets evolve, potentially fostering life.”
Jim Garvin takes us on a visit to Venus
Proposed NASA missions
NASA recently selected four Discovery Program class missions to develop concept studies for new missions. Two of those mission concepts are for Venus. NASA may elect to one or more missions, though it could decide to pass on all of them. A decision is expected next year.
Here are the two Venus missions:
DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus)
“DAVINCI+ will analyze Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed, evolved and determine whether Venus ever had an ocean. DAVINCI+ plunges through Venus’ inhospitable atmosphere to precisely measure its composition down to the surface. The instruments are encapsulated within a purpose-built descent sphere to protect them from the intense environment of Venus. The ‘+’ in DAVINCI+ refers to the imaging component of the mission, which includes cameras on the descent sphere and orbiter designed to map surface rock-type. The last U.S.-led, in-situ mission to Venus was in 1978. The results from DAVINCI+ have the potential to reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond. James Garvin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would provide project management.”
VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy)
“VERITAS would map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why Venus developed so differently than the Earth. Orbiting Venus with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS charts surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create three-dimensional reconstructions of topography and confirm whether processes, such as plate tectonics and volcanism, are still active on Venus. VERITAS would also map infrared emissions from the surface to map Venus’ geology, which is largely unknown. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is the principal investigator. JPL would provide project management.”
“The concepts were chosen from proposals submitted in 2019 under NASA Announcement of Opportunity (AO) NNH19ZDA010O, Discovery Program. The selected investigations will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as part of the Discovery Program. The Discovery Program conducts space science investigations in the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, guided by NASA’s agency priorities and the Decadal Survey process of the National Academy of Sciences.”
“Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.”