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NASA's Mission to Venus

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Nasa has announced that it is sending two new missions to Venus in order to examine the planet's atmosphere and geological features.

The missions, which have each been awarded $500m (£352m) in funding, are due to launch between 2028 and 2030.

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said the missions would offer the "chance to investigate a planet we haven't been to in more than 30 years".

The last US probe to visit the planet was the Magellan orbiter in 1990.

However, other spacecraft - from Europe and Japan - have orbited the planet since then.

The missions were picked following a peer review process and were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans.

"These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world, capable of melting lead at the surface," Mr Nelson said.

Venus is the second planet from the sun and the hottest planet in the solar system with a surface temperature of 500C - high enough to melt lead.

The Davinci+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) mission will measure the planet's atmosphere to gain insight into how it formed and evolved. It will also aim to determine whether Venus ever had an ocean.

Davinci+ is expected to return the first high resolution images of the planet's "tesserae" geological features. Scientists believe these features could be comparable to continents on Earth and could suggest that Venus has plate tectonics.

The second mission, Veritas (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), will map the planet's surface to understand its geological history and investigate how it developed so differently than Earth.

It will use a form of radar to chart surface elevations and discover whether volcanoes and earthquakes are still happening.

"It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in the sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core," said Tom Wagner from Nasa's Planetary Science Division.

"It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet," he added.



( @nudge had seen you mention two of these in another topic, but seems like it's been green-lighted!)

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Yeah, very exciting choice, especially the landing probe. A huge challenge in technology, given acid clouds, extreme heat and crushing pressure - very interested to see what solutions they have, how well the heat-resistant electronics perform, and how long the probe survives once it made it to the surface. Hopefully we'll get more data and can confirm that phosphine signal in the atmosphere, too! 

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Astronomy Picture of the Day

2021 March 17


The Surface of Venus from Venera 14
Image Credit: Soviet Planetary Exploration ProgramVenera 14;
Processing & CopyrightDonald Mitchell & Michael Carroll (used with permission)

Explanation: If you could stand on Venus -- what would you see? Pictured is the view from Venera 14, a robotic Soviet lander which parachuted and air-braked down through the thick Venusian atmosphere in March of 1982. The desolate landscape it saw included flat rocks, vast empty terrain, and a featureless sky above Phoebe Regio near Venus' equator. On the lower left is the spacecraft's penetrometer used to make scientific measurements, while the light piece on the right is part of an ejected lens cap. Enduring temperatures near 450 degrees Celsius and pressures 75 times that on Earth, the hardened Venera spacecraft lasted only about an hour. Although data from Venera 14 was beamed across the inner Solar System almost 40 years ago, digital processing and merging of Venera's unusual images continues even today. Recent analyses of infrared measurements taken by ESA's orbiting Venus Express spacecraft indicate that active volcanoes may currently exist on Venus.


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Then There Were 3: NASA to Collaborate on ESA’s New Venus Mission


As a key partner in the mission, NASA provides the synthetic aperture radar, called VenSAR, to make high-resolution measurements of the planet’s surface features.

On June 10, 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the selection of EnVision as its newest medium-class science mission. EnVision will make detailed observations of Venus to understand its history and especially understand the connections between the atmosphere and geologic processes. As a key partner in the mission, NASA provides the synthetic aperture radar, called VenSAR, to make high-resolution measurements of the planet’s surface features.

With significantly higher resolution than that of NASA’s Magellan mission, which captured images of Venus in the early 1990s, VenSAR will improve our understanding of the planet’s surface features. Repeated observations and comparisons with Magellan imagery promise the opportunity for planetary scientists to detect volcanic, tectonic, and geomorphic changes over multiple timescales at a resolution that gets to the level of individual landslides. Scott Hensley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is the instrument project scientist.

“EnVision’s VenSAR will provide a unique perspective with its targeted studies of the Venus surface, enriching the roadmap of Venus exploration,” said Adriana Ocampo, EnVision program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.




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NASA's Venus Rover Challenge Winners Announced



An overwhelming response to the competition will help advance the design of a mechanical rover concept that could one day explore the hellish surface of Venus.

How do you design a vehicle that can withstand the furnace-like heat and crushing pressures of Venus? One idea being explored by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is a wind-powered clockwork rover, and it's just been given a boost by designers, the maker community, and citizen scientists from around the world. In February, NASA launched a public competition to seek ideas for a mechanical obstacle-avoidance sensor that could be incorporated into the novel rover's design. And today, the winners have been announced.

"The response from the community was incredible and better than I ever dreamed," said Jonathan Sauder, a senior mechatronics engineer at JPL. "There were so many great ideas and well-developed concepts that in addition to first, second, and third place, we decided to add two finalists and another 10 honourable mentions in recognition of the amazing work people put into this project."






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Astronomy Picture of the Day

2021 February 25


A Venus Flyby
Image Credit: NASAJHUAPLNaval Research Lab, Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher

Explanation: On a mission to explore the inner heliosphere and solar corona, on July 11, 2020 the Wide-field Imager on board NASA's Parker Solar Probe captured this stunning view of the nightside of Venus at distance of about 12,400 kilometers (7,693 miles). The spacecraft was making the third of seven gravity-assist flybys of the inner planet. The gravity-asssist flybys are designed to use the approach to Venus to help the probe alter its orbit to ultimately come within 6 million kilometers (4 million miles) of the solar surface in late 2025. A surprising image, the side-looking camera seems to peer through the clouds to show a dark feature near the center known as Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. The bright rim at the edge of the planet is nightglow likely emitted by excited oxygen atoms recombining into molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Bright streaks and blemishes throughout the image are likely due to energetic charged particles, and dust near the camera reflecting sunlight. Skygazers from planet Earth probably recognize the familiar stars of Orion's belt and sword at lower right.


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Venus never had oceans, climate model shows

Too hot, no rain, but the search for Venusian oceans will continue.


New research has revealed that Venus may have been too hot to ever form oceans on its surface.

In many ways, our neighbouring planet is very similar to Earth. It’s a rocky planet of about the same size, and it has an atmosphere and some water. But its atmosphere is thick and predominantly made up of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulphuric acid, and its surface pressure and temperature are extreme.

However, this may not have always been the case – previous studies have suggested the planet could once have been a much more hospitable place. Over the next decade, ESA and NASA are sending three missions to Venus in the hope of finding out whether this is true, and in particular investigate whether the planet hosted ancient oceans.

But new research published in Nature suggests that it didn’t. The team used 3D models of the atmosphere – similar to those currently used to understand the Earth’s climate – to wind back the clock and see how conditions evolved.


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“We simulated the climate of the Earth and Venus at the very beginning of their evolution, more than four billion years ago, when the surface of the planets was still molten,” explains Martin Turbet, lead author of the study from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Switzerland.

Turns out, the planet was prohibitively hot.

“The associated high temperatures meant that any water would have been present in the form of steam, as in a gigantic pressure cooker,” says Turbet.

Essentially, the climate conditions on Venus wouldn’t have allowed water vapour to condense in the atmosphere – that is, temperatures were never low enough for raindrops to form and fall, and it takes thousands of years of rain to form an ocean. The model took into account the fact that the infant Sun was 30% dimmer than it is now, but found that this still wouldn’t have cooled Venus enough.

“One of the main reasons for this [heating] is the clouds that form preferentially on the night side of the planet,” Turbet explains. “These clouds cause a very powerful greenhouse effect that prevented Venus from cooling as quickly as previously thought.”

The simulations further showed that if Earth was just a little closer to the Sun (or the Sun had shone a little brighter), it could have gone down the same road as Venus.

“Our results are based on theoretical models and are an important building block in answering the question of the history of Venus,” says co-author David Ehrenreich, also from UNIGE and NCCR.

“But we will not be able to rule on the matter definitively on our computers. The observations of the three future Venusian space missions will be essential to confirm – or refute – our work.”?id=169331&title=Venus+never+had+oceans%



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Return to Venus: private space venture to explore the evening star for life

Small rocket and tiny payload will get just 5 minutes to look for signatures of life on Venus


Is there life on Venus? Research says it once had oceans and would have supported temperatures of about 20-50 degrees Celsius (68-122 degrees Fahrenheit). Towards the end of this decade, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will send probes to find out.

If, however, you can’t wait that long, then you’ll want to be getting across a recent announcement of a collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists and Rocket Lab which will launch a small probe to Venus in May next year.

It’s only a small rocket and probe, but it marks a big shift in the way humanity is interacting with space. The first 50 years of spaceflight typically involved governments and their agencies, which resulted in proportionally big steps for humankind, think: the first satellites, humans in space, walking on the moon, orbiting habitats like Skylab, the ISS, spacewalks and interstellar exploration.

The last decade or so has seen a rapid increase in commercial interest in the sector.


Spurred by reports in 2020 of the potential detection of phosphine gas in the clouds of Venus (which is a gas typically produced by living organisms), Sara Seager, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at MIT and her team realised Rocket Lab’s Electron Launch vehicle and Photon spacecraft could be the perfect mission to get to Venus much sooner than the end of the decade.

The Electron rocket is only 18 metres tall, but it’s powerful enough to push the Photon spacecraft and small probe into orbit 165 km above Earth. From there the Photon upper stage will take over and head to Venus. On arrival, the spacecraft will deploy a small 40cm probe which weighs around 20 kg.

The probe will fall through the upper atmosphere of Venus, collecting information on suspended particles in the clouds for around five and a half minutes, transmitting data back to Earth for 20 minutes, before succumbing to Venus’s inhospitable environment. It won’t be able to detect phosphine directly, but the instrument, known as an autofluorescing nephlometer will use an ultraviolet laser, causing any organic compounds within to fluoresce.


A detection would not be a proof of microbial life as organic molecules can be related to many non-biological processes. But, says Seager in a recent interview for MIT Technology Review, if they were found it would be a step “toward us considering Venus as a potentially habitable environment”.

The trip to Venus should take around 5 months, meaning a private company could be exploring the atmosphere of our sister planet for the very first time by October 2023.



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