NASA has chosen two missions, called DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, to explore the “lost habitable world” of Venus. About $500 million will be allocated to develop each, and both missions are expected to launch between 2028 and 2030.
For a long time, it was thought that there was no life on Venus because of its extremely high temperatures. But late last year, scientists studying the planet’s atmosphere announced the surprising discovery of phosphine. On Earth, this chemical is produced mostly by living organisms.
The news sparked renewed interest in Earth’s “twin,” prompting NASA to plan advanced missions to take a closer look at Venus’ planetary environment, which may hint at conditions suitable for life.
Conditions for life
Ever since the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a huge number of nearby galaxies, astronomers have become obsessed with looking for exoplanets in other star systems, especially those that seem suitable for life.
But there are certain criteria by which a planet can be considered suitable for life. It must have a suitable temperature, an atmospheric pressure similar to Earth’s, and available water.
In this respect, Venus would probably not attract much attention if it were outside of our solar system. Its sky is filled with dense clouds of sulfuric acid (which is dangerous to humans), the earth is a desolate landscape of extinct volcanoes, and 90 percent of its surface is covered by hot, glowing lava flows.
Despite this, NASA will look for environmental conditions on the planet that may have once supported life. In particular, any evidence that there was once an ocean on Venus would change all current perceptions of the planet.
Interestingly, at about 50 kilometers above the surface of Venus, conditions are much less harsh. In fact, the pressure at these higher altitudes eases so much that conditions become much more similar to those on Earth, with breathable air and pleasant temperatures.
If life (in the form of microbes) exists on Venus, this is probably where it will be found.