NASA has narrowed the choices down to five for its next planetary science mission, with options such as sending a probe into Venus's atmosphere to look for active volcanoes or studying the metallic asteroid Psyche for clues to the origins of planets' cores.

The U.S. space agency said Wednesday that a panel of scientists and engineers had chosen the short list from 27 different submissions. Each finalist will have a year to do further studies and analysis before NASA selects one or two proposals for its next major scientific mission to space.

"Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers," astronaut and NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld said in a statement.

The chosen mission or missions could launch as early as 2020 and would have development costs capped at $500 million US.

The five finalists:

  • DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging), a probe that would descend into Venus's atmosphere for 63 minutes to study it and look for signs of active volcanoes on the planet.
  • VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), a mission to generate high-resolution maps and images of Venus's surface.
  • NEOCam (Near Earth Object Camera), a space telescope that would detect possibly thousands of previously unknown asteroids and comets, especially ones that are considered potentially hazardous to Earth in the event of a collision.
  • Psyche, a mission to explore the metallic asteroid Psyche, one of the 20 most massive asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, to learn more about the beginnings of planets' cores.
  • Lucy, a mission to conduct the first survey of Jupiter's 6,000-plus so-called Trojan asteroids.