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Two NASA Missions Will Explore Venus

venus 

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. This image is a composite of data from NASA's Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

 

Two new NASA missions aimed at exploring Venus, Earth’s closest planetary neighbor, include scientists from PSI.  DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) are expected to launch in the 2028-2030 time frame. NASA has awarded approximately $500 million per mission for development. 

"I never knew it was possible to cry and have goose bumps at the same time, because that's what happened to me when I heard the news," said PSI Senior Scientist Darby Dyar, the deputy principal investigator on VERITAS and chair of NASA's Venus exploration advisory group. "The Venus community has waited decades for this moment, and to have NASA give us two missions in one, both complementary, is out of this world.” 

“I’ve been pushing for this for literally my entire career,” tweeted PSI Senior Scientist David Grinspoon, who is on the DAVINCI+ mission. “So much to learn about climate, history of Earth-like worlds & life in the universe. I can’t describe how thrilled I am.” 

“There have been a number of reasons why we've been neglecting Venus but hopefully that's all changing. Venus is a natural laboratory to study climate change and to sort of push our climate models to the limit,” Grinspoon said. “We think Venus used to be a lot like Earth, but something happened to its climate, geology, and its ocean that seems to make it no longer Earth-like and no longer able to support life.“

VERITAS will map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why it developed so differently than Earth. Orbiting Venus with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS will chart surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create 3D reconstructions of topography and confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus. VERITAS also will map infrared emissions from Venus’ surface to map its rock type, which is largely unknown, and determine whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere.

DAVINCI+ will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean. The mission consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared to the Earth’s.

In addition, DAVINCI+ will return the first high resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, suggesting that Venus has plate tectonics. This would be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978, and the results from DAVINCI+ could reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond.

June 20, 2021

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