32 years after the last mission, NASA will return to Venus in order to reveal the mysteries of its dense atmosphere, including the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
After the support received from the Biden administration at the end of May, with a budget plan that contemplates 24,800 million dollars (6% more than in the previous fiscal year), NASA announced this June 2 launching of two missions that aim to increase understanding about the formation and atmosphere of Venus , the hottest planet in the Solar System and the closest to Earth.
DAVINCI+ and VERITAS: NASA’s return to Venus
Eclipsed by the media attention generated by Mars so far this century, Venus has been a world relatively ignored by the space agency for the past three decades. Covered by a dense atmosphere that causes a perpetual greenhouse effect, this rocky world has been suspected of harboring extraterrestrial life since the last third of the last century.
Carl Sagan was the first to point to the clouds of Venus as one of the most promising sites in the Solar System in the search for extraterrestrial life. In ‘Life In the Clouds of Venus’, a study published in 1967, the author of ‘Cosmos’ (1980) speculated that from the biochemical composition of Venusian clouds, it would be possible the existence simple life forms floating above them.
In September 2020, a controversial study determined the presence of phosphine, a biomarker gas that on Earth is caused by microorganisms living in oxygen-free environments in the clouds of Venus.
And although a month later three independent studies were unable to detect the presence of gas, NASA’s new bet will be funded by 500 million dollars for each of the two missions presented, which will be launched in the period from 2028 to 2030:
The DAVINCI+ mission (Venus Research in Deep Atmosphere of Noble Gases, Chemistry and images) will be responsible for measuring the composition of Venus’ atmosphere, with the intention of “understanding how it formed and evolved, as well as determining whether the planet ever had an ocean.”
According to NASA, it is a sphere that will enter its atmosphere to measure the noble gases and other elements present in it, which cause it to be 90 times denser than the Earth’s and impenetrable to the eye.
The second mission announced is VERITAS (Emissivity, Radioscience, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy of Venus), which will complement DAVINCI+’s atmospheric work by “evaluating the geological history of the planet and understanding why it developed so differently from Earth.”
VERITAS will try to follow the Magellan’s work from 3D reconstructions of the planet’s topography, to provide a definitive answer on volcanism and hypothetical plate tectonics on Venus.
The first probe that reached the second planet relative to the Sun and transmitted data from its orbit was Mariner 2, flying over Venus in December 1962; while the last mission of the agency that explored this world was Magellan, from 1990 to 1994.