NASA has teamed up with the Russian space program to study ‘Earth’s evil twin.’
Scientists sponsored by the US space agency will meet with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI) next week to discuss plans for the exploration of Venus, NASA revealed today.
In the proposed Venera-D mission, scientists plan to send a Russian space probe to orbit Venus for up to three years, along with a lander that will operate for a few hours on the harsh surface.
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NASA has teamed up with the Russian space program to study ‘Earth’s evil twin.’ In the proposed Venera-D mission, scientists plan to send a Russian space probe to orbit Venus for up to three years, along with a lander that will operate for a few hours on the harsh surface
VENUS: EARTH’S EVIL TWIN
Venus is slightly smaller than Earth but has a similar mass.
It is the second closest planet to the sun at a distance of about 67 million miles (108 million kilometres), and takes around 225 days to orbit the sun.
One day on Venus lasts as long as 243 Earth days.
Its thick and toxic atmosphere is made up mostly of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, with clouds of sulphuric acid droplets.
It’s believed that its atmosphere contributed to a runaway greenhouse effect that made the planet inhospitable.
The planet’s extreme high temperatures of almost 480°C (900°F) make it seem an unlikely place for for life as we know it.
The Joint Science Definition Team study between the two space agencies aims to identify the shared science objectives for this mission, which could lead to better understanding of the planet’s climate, and reveal if it ever supported life.
At the end of January, the NASA Headquarters in Washington and IKI in Moscow were both given a report assessing and refining the objectives for the mission.
‘While Venus is known as our ‘sister planet,’ we have much to learn, including whether it may have once had oceans and harboured life,’ said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
‘By understanding the processes at work at Venus and Mars, we will have a more complete picture about how terrestrial planets evolve over time and obtain insight into the Earth’s past, present, and future.’
The team is also working to determine the feasibility of flying a solar-powered airship in Venus’ upper atmosphere as well, which could be released from the Venera-D lander, enter the atmosphere, and explore Venus on its own for up to three months.
The planet is similar to Earth in both composition and size, but spins slowly in the opposite direction.
And, its thick atmosphere traps heat, causing a runaway greenhouse effect.
As a result, it’s the hottest planet in our solar system, with surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead – leading to its nickname as Earth’s ‘evil twin.’
The Joint Science Definition Team study between the two space agencies aims to identify the shared science objectives for this mission, which could lead to better understanding of the planet’s climate, and reveal if it ever supported life
‘On a solar-system scale, Earth and Venus are very close together and of similar size and makeup,’ said David Senske, co-chair of the US Venera-D science definition team, and a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
‘Among the goals that we would like to see if we can accomplish with such a potential partnership is to understand how Venus’ climate operates so as to understand the mechanism that has given rise to the rampant greenhouse effect we see today.’
An international team of scientists tasked with deciding the main goals of the mission will deliver its final report to NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute by the end of the month, David Senske, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. told Space.com.
A series of Russian probes sent to the planet in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, known as the Venera spacecraft, were able to survive no more than a few hours on the surface. Shown are images from the Venera 9 (top) and Venera 10 (bottom) probes that landed on the surface
‘Is this the mission that’s going to fly? No, but we’re getting there,’ Senske, the U.S. co-chair of this ‘joint science-definition team,’ told the site last month at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco.
The project is being led by Russia, and has been under development for over a decade.
The Soviet Union, launched a number of probes to Venus from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s, as part of its Venera and Vega programs.
NASA became involved three years ago, when Russia asked if the U.S. space agency would be interested in collaborating, Senske added.
More meetings are planned, including a workshop this May that will inform decisions about the mission’s scientific instruments, he added.
The mission is believed to be a ‘showstopper’ comparable to efforts such as the Curiosity rover.
Other ideas on the drawing board include a handful of small, relatively simple ground stations that would gather surface data for a month and a solar-powered, uncrewed aerial vehicle that would ply the Venusian skies.