Madrid, 3 (European Press)
NASA will return to Venus, Earth’s closest neighbor, at the end of this decade to understand how a planet similar to ours could turn into an infernal greenhouse.
One of the two missions selected for this purpose is called DAVINCI+ (Venus’ Deep Atmosphere Exploration of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging). It will measure the composition of Venus’s atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as to determine if the planet has an ocean. The mission consists of a descending ball diving into the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’s atmosphere is such a runaway greenhouse compared to Earth’s.
In addition, DAVINCI+ will display the first high-resolution images of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae”, which are comparable to Earth’s continents, indicating that Venus has plate tectonics. This will be the first US-led mission to the atmosphere of Venus since 1978, and the results of DAVINCI+ could reshape our understanding of the formation of the Earth in our solar system and beyond. You will lead the mission from NASA’s Goddard Center.
The second mission is VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy), which will map the surface of Venus to determine the planet’s geological history and understand why it evolved differently from Earth. Orbiting Venus using synthetic aperture radar, Veritas will map the elevations of nearly the entire planet’s surface to create 3D reconstructions of the terrain and confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus.
VERITAS will also map infrared emissions from the surface of Venus to map its rock type, which is largely unknown, and determine whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere. Led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the German Aerospace Center will provide the infrared scheme with the Italian Space Agency and the French National Center for Space Studies, contributing to the radar and other parts of the mission.
“We are accelerating our planetary science program through extensive exploration of a world that NASA has not visited in more than 30 years,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate director for science, said in a statement. “Using the latest technology developed by NASA and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we are ushering in a new decade for Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet could become a greenhouse. Our goals are not just about understanding the evolution and habitability of planets in our solar system, but extending to Beyond these frontiers to exoplanets, it is an exciting and emerging research area for NASA.”
In addition to the two missions, NASA has selected two technology demonstrations to fly with them. Veritas will host the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with funding from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The ultra-accurate clock signal generated with this technology will eventually help enable autonomous spacecraft maneuvers and improve radio science observations.
DAVINCI+ will contain the Ultraviolet to Visible Imaging Spectrometer (CUVIS) built by Goddard. CUVIS will perform high-precision UV measurements using a new shape-free optical instrument. These observations will be used to determine the nature of the unknown UV absorber in Venus’s atmosphere that absorbs up to half of the incoming solar energy.