Galileo Galilei, observing Venus with his telescope, was among the first to note that the appearance of the planet in the sky varies over time with cycles similar to those of the Moon which appears to us as new, growing, full, and compact. Thanks to those observations made in 1610, Galileo found an important confirmation that the planets revolve around the sun and not the other way around. Despite the role it played in discovering the motions of the planets and their relative proximity to Earth, there are still many things that elude us from the history and present of Venus. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are confident that these gaps will be at least partially filled, and to do so they recently announced important missions to the planet.
By the end of this decade, the European Space Agency’s DAVINCI+, VERITAS, and EnVision probe will have a mission to explore and map Venus, collecting valuable data on the planet’s thick atmosphere that according to some theories could host life. as we know it.
Venus is located on average at a distance of 170 million kilometers from us. It has dimensions and mass similar to Earth, so much so that it is sometimes called the twin of our planet, but it certainly has a less favorable climate. Its atmosphere consists mostly of carbon dioxide, which helps create a greenhouse effect unmatched in the solar system. This circumstance combined with the greater proximity to the Sun, makes Venus the hottest planet in our ocean.
The surface is difficult to notice because Venus is surrounded by very dense and thick clouds, consisting mainly of sulfuric acid. The Earth’s average temperature of 460 degrees Celsius and the acidic composition of the atmosphere make it unlikely that any life form could exist on the surface.
However, since the late 1960s, some astronomers have speculated that there may be life forms not on the surface, but in cloud layers 60,000 meters above sea level, where atmospheric pressure and temperatures are more similar to those on Earth. Earth.
This brilliant theory (somewhat creative for the most skeptical people) seems to have received some of it confirmation Last September, after traces of phosphine, a gas associated on Earth with the activities of living organisms, were discovered. Since then, many researchers have debated whether phosphine actually exists and whether it can be reliable evidence for the existence of life.
DAVINCI+ and VERITAS may provide some new clues, but they were not built specifically to detect the presence of phosphine. In fact, the design of the two probes began several years before the new phosphine studies, and so the instruments used were designed for other purposes. For NASA, it will still be an important comeback, considering that it sent the last probe into the atmosphere of Venus in 1978.
Da Vinci +
As you can guess, DAVINCI + owes the name of Leonardo da Vinci, shown by NASA researchers as inspired by his ability to bring “engineering, technology, and art” together. The acronym stands for “Venus’ Deep Atmospheric Exploration of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging, plus” and the probe will take on the task of collecting data to reconstruct the planet’s past.
In fact, researchers hypothesize that Venus was similar to Earth, with oceans covering much of its surface and possibly the presence of life. Then something happened that caused the planet to lose surface water and become an increasingly hot and hostile place. The data collected could help confirm this theory, understand how Venus-like planets evolved, and make more accurate estimates of what could happen to Earth due to global warming.
DAVINCI+ will perform two close passes in order to collect data on cloud motion and surface composition. A smaller probe then separates from the spacecraft and crosses Venus’s atmosphere to collect data on its chemical composition, wind strength and pressure. Approaching the Earth, it will discover the shape of an alpha region, a large area in which the Earth is fragmented and has significant deformations.
La sonda VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, terrain and spectroscopy) will spin around Venus with the mission of mapping the planet’s surface in high resolution. The data collected by its radar will be used to build a three-dimensional map of the planet, which will also allow us to understand whether it is still active from a geological point of view, for example with the phenomenon of volcanoes.
Thanks to VERITAS, researchers are confident in obtaining new elements to reconstruct the history of Venus from a geological point of view, and to understand why its evolution is different from that of the Earth.
On June 10, the European Space Agency announce To choose EnVision as the next mission to Venus. The initiative provides for sending a probe to discover the stratification of the soil of the planet with tools to study its surface and atmosphere, and NASA will provide part of the devices as part of the cooperation between the two agencies. The launch is scheduled for 2031, then the spacecraft will take about 15 months to reach Venus and another 16 months to establish its orbit around the planet at an average distance of 380 kilometers.
The news of the three missions has excited many astronomers, who in recent years have harshly criticized NASA for neglecting Venus, and for devoting more attention to another planet: Mars.
Over the past 30 years, the US space agency has sent a large number of probes and robots to explore Mars, placing it at the center of its solar system programs, with the prospect of one day reaching it with astronauts. Landing on Mars is by no means easyBut on the other hand, the planet does not tend to melt anything that touches its surface as it does on Venus.
Precisely because it has received less attention, Venus still hides many mysteries for scientists. The two missions will likely provide information that will drastically change not only knowledge about the planet, but in general the way we think and evaluate planets outside our solar system and at enormous distances, which we will probably never reach.
At the end of 1610, Galileo became familiar with the phases of Venus, an important evidence for confirming the heliocentric theory, sent to Giovanni Kepler a Latin sentence: “These early things I said in vain” (“I have read this immature de»). It was a symbolic phrase as it was often used at the time to prevent other scientists from taking over other people’s discoveries before they were announced pending further confirmation. Kepler struggled to decipher it and Galileo himself later revealed it: “The mother of love [Venere, ndr] Imitates the shapes of Cinzia [la Luna, ndr]».
While More powerful than ever Compared to the Galileo telescope, it allows us to observe stars that formed when the Earth was not there, and whose light takes billions of years to reach us, we have not yet been able to directly and accurately observe the planets orbiting them. However, we are fortunate to have seven planets in our neighborhood in addition to Earth, with unique properties that depend on their size and position relative to the Sun.
It’s a massive sample to study to understand how other planets are made, which we still can’t see and at distances we can’t even imagine. DAVINCI+, VERITAS, EnVision as well as other planetary missions organized in recent decades help us do just that and discover something new, even about ourselves.