NASA is returning to sizzling Venus, our closest yet perhaps most overlooked neighbor, after decades of exploring other worlds. The space agency announced two new robotic missions to the solar system’s hottest planet. These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface.

What

  1. One mission named DaVinci Plus will analyze the thick, cloudy Venusian atmosphere in an attempt to determine whether the inferno planet ever had an ocean and was possibly habitable.
  2. A small craft will plunge through the atmosphere to measure the gases. It will be the first U.S.-led mission to the Venusian atmosphere since 1978. DAVINCI+ could conclusively confirm the presence of phosphine.
  3. DAVINCI is a shortening of Deep Atmosphere of Venus Investigations of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging. The plus sign indicates enhancements over a previous proposal, DAVINCI.
  4. Concentrations of krypton, argon, neon and xenon — the noble gases that do not react with other elements — may provide hints about how Venus and its atmosphere formed.
  5. The measurements might also find signs of whether water has escaped from Venus into space and whether oceans ever covered the surface.
  6. The other mission, called Veritas, will seek a geologic history by mapping the rocky planet’s surface.
  7. VERITAS, short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography & Spectroscopy, will send an orbiter that would produce high-resolution three-dimensional global maps using radar, and a spectrometer will identify what the surface is made of.
  8. It will also precisely measure variations in the planet’s gravitational pull, which will offer clues to its interior geological processes.

Flashback

  1. Venus is in many ways a twin of Earth — it is comparable in size, mass and composition, and it is the planet whose orbit is the closest to Earth’s. But the history of the two planets diverged.
  2. While Earth is moderate in temperature and largely covered with water, Venus, with a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide, is a hellishly hot 900 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface.
  3. The U.S. and the former Soviet Union sent multiple spacecraft to Venus in the early days of space exploration.
  4. NASA’s Mariner 2 performed the first successful flyby in 1962, and the Soviets’ Venera 7 made the first successful landing in 1970.
  5. In 1989, NASA used a space shuttle to send its Magellan spacecraft into orbit around Venus.
  6. The European Space Agency put a spacecraft around Venus in 2006.