In search of traces of life, NASA will send two space missions to Venus

Logically speaking, one might think that the hottest planet in our solar system and with the worst conditions for generating life is Mercury, the world closest to our star. but not. The truth is Venus, the second planet in Earth’s cosmic neighborhood, is the world with a dense carbon atmosphere that causes a surface temperature of more than 480°C.

This planet, very similar to Earth in size, mass and composition, made headlines again today, when NASA announced that it is preparing for two space missions for the next few years to visit and study it. Something that hasn’t happened in more than three decades.

Thus, the US space agency announced this afternoon that Two missions will be sent to Venus in 2026, called Da Vinci and Veritas, in order to further explore this planet, It has been relegated to scientific research by others such as Mars, Jupiter or Saturn in recent years.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speaks during the presentation of the new space missions to Venus – REUTERS/Al Drago

These two sister missions aim to discover why Venus has become an infernal world They provide society with the opportunity to investigate a planet we haven’t visited in 30 years.” NASA, Bill Nelson. Nelson He explained that the da Vinci mission will look deep into the atmosphere of this planet, while Veritas will focus on the topography of Venus.

Two advanced missions

NASA’s last spacecraft dedicated to exploring Venus, Magellan, arrived in 1990 and spent four years mapping the planet’s surface. With advanced radar. Since then, NASA has successfully sent a display of spacecraft to Mars, five spacecraft, four orbiters, and two landers, in an effort to understand the history of water and the possibility of life on the Red Planet. But the US space agency has not sent anything to Venus.

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Last year, Venus neglected He again entered the planetary spotlight after a team of scientists using ground-based telescopes claimed to have discovered اكتشف Convincing evidence of microbes living in the clouds of Venus Today, temperatures remain comfortably warm rather than scorching. They said they discovered the phosphine molecule, They could not find a reasonable explanation for how it formed there, except as a waste product of living organisms.

A view of Venus from the NASA-JPL/JPL-Caltech Magellan Spacecraft/Published via Reuters.
A view of Venus from the NASA-JPL/JPL-Caltech Magellan Spacecraft/Published via Reuters.

But other scientists who looked at the same data said they didn’t see a convincing signal. But the result led to Jim Bridenstine, then NASA administrator, to say in September : “It’s time to prioritize the flower.” Last year, NASA submitted proposals for the Discovery Program, in which scientists came up with ideas for smaller planetary missions at modest prices. Two of these ideas were da Vinci and Veritas, who are today announced as winners.

Davinci is an acronym for Deep Atmosphere of Venus Noble Gas Research, Chemistry, and Imaging. One of da Vinci’s science goals, according to NASA, will be to understand the origin of Venus’s atmosphere, how it evolved, and how and why it differs from that of Earth and Mars. In addition, this mission aims to provide details about the tectonic and volcanic history of the planet and to understand the water history of Venus.

Da Vinci seeks to prove conclusively that phosphine exists on this planet. After entering orbit, the spacecraft will drop a spherical probe filled with instruments that will “smell” and analyze gases as they descend through the atmosphere for just over an hour. Concentrations of krypton, argon, neon, and xenon, the noble gases that do not interact with other elements, could give clues about how Venus and its atmosphere formed. The measurements could also find signs of whether water escaped from Venus into space and whether oceans covered the surface.

The DAVINCI + and VERITAS missions will look for traces of life on Venus - Reuters / Al Drago
The DAVINCI + and VERITAS missions will look for traces of life on Venus – Reuters / Al Drago

And the same The devices could also directly identify phosphine molecules, and this would lead to a lively debate as to whether phosphine is It was definitive proof of life or if it could have been generated by some geological or chemical reaction not involving biology. A negative result will not close the problem. Since the probe will only sample the atmosphere in one location at a time, the absence of phosphine there will not prove that phosphine is not present everywhere. The probe will continue to study the planet with a camera to capture images in the ultraviolet and near infrared wavelengths.

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Veritas stands for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy.The mission will send an orbital vehicle that will produce high-resolution 3D global maps using radar, The spectrometer will determine what the surface is made of. It will also accurately measure changes in the planet’s gravity, and provide clues to internal geological processes, from its core to its surface.

Other space agencies have visited Venus recently. The European Space Agency launched the Venus Express in 2005, orbiting the planet for eight years, monitoring small lava flows and other evidence that it may still be geologically active.

Akatsuki, of the Japan Space Agency, is the only spacecraft currently on Venus. In its study from orbit, the spacecraft detected disturbances in the planet’s winds known as gravitational waves, as well as equatorial jet currents in its atmosphere.

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Lovell Loxley

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