We’re Going to Venus!

Well, it’s not like “We’re going to the Catskills!”, that exclamation by Miriam Maisel in the Prime show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Her family spent 2 months each summer enjoying the amenities of a southeastern New York state resort. Back in the 1950s the Catskills were a hot destination and so is Venus, but in a very different way.

Venus is hot, with surface temperatures nearing 900 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s not exactly a candidate for vacationing families. But, in recent years Venus has become of great interest among astrobiologists and astronomers because it might harbor life. Right, how is life going to make it in such a hostile environment? Its 97% CO2 atmosphere produces pressures equivalent to over ½ mile deep in our ocean. Above its CO2 atmosphere is a cloud deck composed of sulfuric acid and ferric chloride. Both very nasty and corrosive. The former Soviet Union’s Venera landers experienced Venus’s wrath, the longest lasting less than two hours before falling victim.

In recent years some attention was given to the apparent presence of phosphine gas in the upper atmosphere. Phosphine is a by product of anaerobic organism metabolism, and 97% CO2 is anaerobic, so this discovery got everyone excited about the possibility of life in Venus’s clouds. Additional research has concluded that it was an error, and it is not phosphine. Nevertheless, conditions might exist in those CO2 clouds, maybe even in the sulfuric acid clouds, that are friendly to extremophile lifeforms. They are much cooler than the surface.

Russia has announced plans to send a spacecraft to Venus in 2029, called Venera-D. It will combine an orbiter to map the surface and a lander to study surface atmospheric and geological conditions. They are designing the lander to perform for at least 24 hours.

India is planning a launch of its Shukrayaan-1 orbiter to study Venus’s atmosphere and map its surface.

The UAE plans to send a probe to Venus as early as 2028. It will study Venus’s atmosphere and then get a gravity assist for its other mission, to the asteroid belt.

The ESA announced a collaboration with NASA on a mission to Venus called EnVision.  It will be an orbiter to study atmospheric composition, the planet’s interior, and radar map the surface.

The United States has announced plans to send two missions to Venus by 2030. VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will map Venus’s surface in 3D, look for recent volcanic activity and geologic processes, and measure its gravitational field. DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will combine an orbiter and a probe released into Venus’s atmosphere, descending for an hour, sampling its chemistry and taking high resolution images.

We’re going back to Venus baby!

What’s in the Sky?

Before sunrise – Venus, Mars, and for a while Mercury in the southeast.

February 12; 8 pm; east: A bright waxing gibbous Moon is in Gemini, between the boys.