NASA selects two missions for launch to Venus: Everything to know

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June 04, 2021 4:57 PM

After the Moon, Venus is the brightest object visible in the night sky from the Earth, which is because of the thick cover of cloud that reflects and scatters light around it.

Venus is called Earth’s twin because both the planets are similar in size, but they have quite a few differences.

Venus: The nearest neighbour of the Earth is Venus, and just like Mars, it has also been a subject of fascination among scientists and astronomers. Now, the US space agency NASA has selected two missions – VERITAS and DAVINCI+ – to head to the planet. According to a report in IE, the missions, selected because of their feasible development plans and their potential scientific value, would launch sometime between 2028 and 2030, as per current estimates, and for this, the agency is expecting to allocate each of the missions an amount of $500 million.

Also read | New Zealand latest nation to sign space agreement with NASA

After the Moon, Venus is the brightest object visible in the night sky from the Earth, which is because of the thick cover of cloud that reflects and scatters light around it. Moreover, the planet is called Earth’s twin because both the planets are similar in size, but they have quite a few differences. The thick cloud cover or atmosphere of Venus causes it to trap the heat it receives from the Sun, with surface temperatures going as high as 471 degrees Celsius. This means that even though Mercury is closest to the Sun, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system. At such high surface temperatures, even lead can melt on Venus.

Another difference is the fact that while Venus moves forward on its orbit around the Sun – similar to the Earth’s movement – its rotation around its axis is backwards, opposite to the movement of most of the planets, which leads to a much longer day. A Venus day equates to 243 days on Earth due to this reason. Venus does not have a Moon or any rings.

It is because of these harsh conditions, humans have not been able to visit Venus, and in the past, the spacecraft that had been sent had not been able to survive for long. This is because of the quick overheating of spacecraft electronics in the atmosphere of the planet.

So far, Soviet Union, NASA and Japan have sent missions to Venus.

These two missions selected by NASA are a part of the agency’s ninth Discovery Program. While DAVINCI+ would mark the first mission led by the US to be sent to the planet’s atmosphere since 1978. It stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging, and is aiming to get an understanding of the composition of the planet to study its formation and evolution. Apart from this, the mission would also have a descent sphere in which it will go through the atmosphere of Venus to understand the noble gases and elements in it. The mission also hopes to send the first high-res images of the surface of Venus, capturing the unique features that might be compared to continents on Earth and might indicate the presence of tectonic plates on Venus.

Meanwhile, VERITAS aims to map the surface of Venus in order to understand the geologic history as well as the reason behind such a drastically different development of the planet as compared to Earth. The mission’s name is short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy, and it is aiming to orbit the planet along with a radar meant for 3-D reconstruction of the planet’s topography for better understanding among scientists about the presence of tectonic plates, etc.

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