NASA wants you to get excited about the nightmare world next door.
This spring, the agency announced that it would develop two new missions to explore Venus in the early 2030s. One, dubbed VERITAS (short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), would orbit the planet, peering through its thick clouds. The other, dubbed DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging), would go one step farther, dropping a high-tech probe to plummet through the acrid Venusian atmosphere. Now, NASA has released a new video highlighting the DAVINCI mission and the science it will conduct at our twin planet.
"Venus is waiting for us all, and DAVINCI is ready to take us there and ignite a new Venus renaissance," narrator Giada Arney, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, says in the video.
Scheduled to launch in 2029, the DAVINCI mission comprises two main pieces, the video explains. First, the main spacecraft, which will conduct two flybys of the planet to study its atmosphere and the nightside surface. The spacecraft's atmospheric work will focus on observing how the clouds change over time and attempting to identify a mysterious chemical that strangely absorbs ultraviolet light.
The nightside work, meanwhile, will map the surface in infrared light, since the rock releases its absorbed heat during the long night. Scientists hope that data will help them understand how the planet's strange highlands formed.
Seven months after the two encounters, the probe will make a one-hour descent through the clouds, beaming back data all the way down. As the main spacecraft watches, the probe will detect the composition, temperatures, pressures and winds present at each layer of the Venusian atmosphere. Scientists hope that all this data will help them not only better understand the planet today, but also piece together its history — and in particular, whether the world once boasted water.
Once the surface comes into view, the probe will also capture high-resolution images of a region called Alpha Regio Tesserae. The surface of Venus contains many patches of tesserae, where the rock has repeatedly broken and folded in a way that happens on Earth only deep in the crust. Scientists hope that by understanding the tesserae and how they ended up on the surface, they can better piece together Venus' history.
All told, the probe will show humans "what it might be like to stand on the Venus surface," Arney said. "The discoveries that emerge from this diverse data set will tell us whether Venus was truly habitable."
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Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.