Just a few days after NASA announced it would be sending two missions to explore Venus, the European Space Agency joined the party.
On Thursday, ESA announced that it would send a probe called EnVision to study the “evil twin of Earth”, which is targeting a launch in the early 2030s.
NASA missions to the second planet in the solar system, DAVINCI + and VERITAS, will start within the next 10 years.
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“A new era in the exploration of our closest but completely different neighbor of the solar system awaits us,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science, in a statement.
“Along with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive scientific program on this enigmatic planet well into the next decade.”
In 2019, researchers said that Venus may have had stable temperatures in its past and could have had “liquid water” for 2 to 3 billion years, similar to Earth.
About 700 million years ago it underwent a “dramatic transformation” – possibly due to volcanic eruptions – that completely changed the planet and resulted in what is now known as hellish atmosphere.
Venus currently has a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit and in some parts of the planet the ground is glowing red.
It also rotates backwards, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east.
The European Space Agency said it would dispatch a probe called Envision to study Venus and join NASA’s announcement earlier this month
The mission, which is targeted for a launch in the early 2030s, will help explain why Venus turned into a piping hot planet, sometimes referred to as the “evil twin of Earth”.
Both space agencies will work together on their respective missions and, in particular, will share instruments.
“All three missions complement each other very well,” said Dr. Philippa Mason, a member of the Envision science team from Imperial College London, UK, told BBC News.
“EnVisions VenSAR, with its targeted studies of the Venus surface, will offer a unique perspective and enrich the Venus exploration roadmap,” said Adriana Ocampo, EnVision Program Scientist at NASA HQ, in a separate NASA statement.
EnVision is expected to focus on the nature of Venus, looking at the planet’s “tesserae”, the planet’s equivalent to the earth’s continents.
It will also examine the planet’s underground layers and look for trace gases in the atmosphere to look for signs of active volcanic activity.
“ESA’s EnVision mission will provide unprecedented high resolution imaging and polarimetry capabilities,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
EnVision (pictured) could launch as early as 2031, but it could also go into orbit in 2032 or 2033, ESA said
It will take EnVision approximately 15 months to reach Venus and then 16 months orbiting the planet
EnVision can see Venus in 92 minutes at an altitude between 220 km and 540 km. circle
“High-resolution images of many of the dynamic processes on Mars have fundamentally changed the way we think about the red planet, and images of similar scales have the potential to do the same for Venus.”
From here, ESA moves on to the “definition phase” of the project, during which the design and instruments of the orbiter are finalized.
A contractor will then be selected to build and test EnVision, with the BBC reporting that Airbus UK is “in a strong position” to assemble the final probe.
It cannot come onto the market until 2031 at the earliest, with options for a 15-month trip in 2032 and 2033.
EnVision will help researchers find out why Venus is so different from Earth, whether it is still volcanically active, and can teach us about planets outside the solar system
After arriving on Venus, it will orbit the planet for 16 months, entering a “quasi-polar” orbit between 220 km and 540 km in altitude and orbiting the planet in 92 minutes, ESA added.
The first of NASA’s two missions, DAVINCI + (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), will measure the atmosphere of Venus to understand how it was formed and evolved, and to see if it ever got one Ocean had.
It will also look for noble gases – like helium, neon, argon, and krypton – in its atmosphere and find out why it is a “runaway greenhouse” compared to Earth.
The other mission, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) will map the surface of Venus and examine its geological history to find out why it evolved so differently from Earth.
It will use synthetic aperture radar and “map surface heights over almost the entire planet to make 3-D reconstructions of the topography” to see if the planet is still experiencing plate tectonics and volcanic activity, NASA added.
In 2020, scientists caused a stir when they said they discovered traces of phosphine gas, a colorless gas naturally produced primarily by certain microorganisms in the absence of oxygen.
However, those hopes may have been dashed when a separate study found that it was not phosphine, but “common” sulfur dioxide.
CARBON DIOXIDE AND SULFURIC ACID DROPS WORK IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF THE VENUS
The atmosphere of Venus consists mainly of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets.
The dense atmosphere traps the sun’s heat, which leads to surface temperatures of over 470 ° C.
The atmosphere has many layers with different temperatures.
At the height of the clouds, about 50 km above the earth’s surface, the temperature is roughly the same as on the earth’s surface.
While Venus moves forwards in its solar orbit, while it slowly rotates backwards around its axis, the top layer of cloud orbits the planet every four days of the earth.
They are propelled by hurricane-force winds that fly at about 224 miles (360 km) per hour.
Atmospheric flashes illuminate these fast-moving clouds.
The velocities within the clouds decrease with the height of the cloud and are estimated to be only a few miles (km) per hour on the surface.
On the ground it would look like a very hazy, cloudy day on earth and the atmosphere is so heavy it feels like you are 1 mile (1.6 km) under water.