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Europe joining NASA for Venus 'triple crown' probing the planet's mysteries

CNET logo CNET 6/11/2021 Amanda Kooser
a satellite in space: Earth and Venus aren't really this close to each other. This illustration shows the EnVision spacecraft, which will look into how the two planets developed so differently from each other. NASA / JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic / VR2Planets © Provided by CNET Earth and Venus aren't really this close to each other. This illustration shows the EnVision spacecraft, which will look into how the two planets developed so differently from each other. NASA / JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic / VR2Planets

Mars who? Hot on the heels of NASA announcing two new Venus missions, the European Space Agency is hopping on board the Venus train by giving the go-ahead to its own mission.

Earth and Venus have been called twins, but Earth grew up into a life-friendly water world while Venus became an inferno of a planet with sulfuric acid clouds. The new mission, called EnVision, will provide "a holistic view of the planet from its inner core to upper atmosphere to determine how and why Venus and Earth evolved so differently."

a satellite in space: Earth and Venus aren't really this close to each other. This illustration shows the EnVision spacecraft, which will look into how the two planets developed so differently from each other. © NASA / JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic / VR2Planets

Earth and Venus aren't really this close to each other. This illustration shows the EnVision spacecraft, which will look into how the two planets developed so differently from each other.

ESA isn't going it alone. NASA will be a collaborator and provide a radar instrument called Vensar to make high-resolution measurements of the planet's surface. EnVision will also monitor atmospheric gases, analyze the surface composition and look for signs of active volcanoes. 

Venus' atmosphere is a particularly intriguing study target after a 2020 paper suggested the gas phosphine -- which sometimes has a biological origin -- may be present in the planet's clouds. Another spacecraft, BepiColombo, en route to Mercury, even stopped by to take some measurements in late 2020. Researchers are wondering if Venus once was habitable, or might even host some form of microbial life now. 

NASA aims for Venus: See what the inferno planet looks like

"Earth's mysterious twin." A "lost habitable" world. An "inferno like" planet. NASA has some great descriptions for Venus, a rocky planet that took a very different path than our own. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, and one that may have an intriguing gas called phosphine that hints at the potential for alien life.In June 2021, NASA greenlighted two new Venus missions: Veritas and Davinci Plus, the agency's first dedicated missions to the second planet from the sun since the launch of the Magellan probe in 1989.NASA created this computer-simulated global view of the northern hemisphere of Venus using data from multiple missions, including NASA's own Magellan and Pioneer missions. The colors come from images collected by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 landers.

"Earth's mysterious twin." A "lost habitable" world. An "inferno like" planet. NASA has some great descriptions for Venus, a rocky planet that took a very different path than our own. Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, and one that may have an intriguing gas called phosphine that hints at the potential for alien life.In June 2021, NASA greenlighted two new Venus missions: Veritas and Davinci Plus, the agency's first dedicated missions to the second planet from the sun since the launch of the Magellan probe in 1989.NASA created this computer-simulated global view of the northern hemisphere of Venus using data from multiple missions, including NASA's own Magellan and Pioneer missions. The colors come from images collected by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 landers.
© Provided by CNET

NASA's own Veritas and Davinci+ missions are targeting a 2028 to 2030 launch, while ESA is looking at the early 2030s for takeoff for EnVision. The next step in development is to finalize the designs of the spacecraft and its science instruments.

"Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade," said ESA director of science Günther Hasinger in a statement on Thursday. 

It's not just NASA and ESA that are in on the Venus action either. The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, have a spacecraft in orbit around the hellacious planet known as Akatsuki. It is designed to study the atmosphere of Venus and was launched back in 2010.

Mars doesn't need to worry. There's plenty of planetary love to go around.

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