Quirks and Quarks

Visiting Venus — NASA announces 2 new missions to Earth's evil twin

VERITAS, an orbiter, will get a global view of the planet and the DAVINCI+ probe will sample the chemical constituents of the atmosphere

The VERITAS and DAVINCI+ spacecraft will launch from Earth between 2028 and 2030

DAVINCI+ will send a meter-diameter probe to brave the high temperatures and pressures near Venus’ surface to explore the atmosphere from above the clouds to near the surface of a terrain that may have been a past continent. During its final kilometers of free-fall descent (shown here), the probe will capture spectacular images and chemistry measurements of the deepest atmosphere on Venus for the first time. (NASA / GSFC visualization by CI Labs Michael Lentz and others)

NASA just announced a pair of missions that'll be heading back to the planet next door.

Of all the rocky planets in our solar system, Venus is the one we know the least about. 

Venus is similar to Earth in its size, the materials it's made of and the fact it might have once had liquid water on its surface. 

But it also serves as a stark warning of what can happen to a planet with a runaway greenhouse effect. It's like Earth's evil twin due to its thick, hot and noxious atmosphere. 

The first mission, VERITAS, is an orbiter that will help scientists like Suzanne Smrekar — VERITAS's principal investigator and geochemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab — will be getting radar images that can penetrate Venus' clouds and looking for chemical signatures on Venus.

This artist's concept shows the VERITAS spacecraft using its radar to produce high-resolution maps of Venus' topographic and geologic features. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

The second mission, DAVINCI+, is a chemistry lab probe that will ingest gases on its way down to the surface to unravel the mystery of the key constituents of the atmosphere.

There's indirect evidence that Venus might have once had liquid water on its surface and may even have more water in its interior than Earth does.

Smrekar told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald that the spectrometer on VERITAS will be able to see if there's water vapour on the surface, which she said would be evidence that volcanoes are spewing water from deep inside the planet today. 

She said learning about Venus' past and current geological process — if there was or is plate tectonics and active volcanism — will also help us better understand how a planet's atmosphere can evolve.

Produced by Sonya Buyting and Mark Crawley. Written by Sonya Buyting. To hear Suzanne Smrekar's interview, click on the link above.