AUSTIN (KXAN) – Venus, the second planet from the sun, is taking center stage this morning. Named for the goddess of love, Venus is making itself easily seen in the night sky. It can be spotted by looking to the west between sunset and 11 p.m.
NASA is prepping to visit what it calls Earth’s “evil twin” in 2029.
“We’re going to be exploring the atmosphere of Venus with a titanium descent sphere,” said Giada Arney, Deputy Principal Investigator with NASA’s DAVINCI mission.
The mission is two parts. First, a probe will do fly-bys of the world, taking pictures of the atmosphere. Then, a probe will be dropped on the planet, where it will fall in the Alpha Regio region, a mountainous area twice the size of Texas that has never been seen before.
Collecting data on a forbidden planet
As the DAVINCI probe falls, it will gather data on the atmosphere of Venus. It will then deploy a camera.
“It’s going to be taking pictures with it one of the highest resolution cameras we’ve sent to Venus yet,” said Lindsay Hays, Program Scientist with NASA.
“(We’ll) be getting real pictures of these Highlands, which are some of the oldest surface areas on the planet.”
The atmosphere is so thick, it will take the probe about an hour to reach the ground. If it survives the impact, Arney said they’re hoping to get 17 minutes to scan the surrounding environment.
Earth’s “evil twin”
For decades, Venus was called Earth’s twin. The planets are about the same size and distance from the sun, with Venus just a tad closer.
However, more recent research has revealed a stark truth: Venus is not a nice place to live.
“It’s about 900 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s about as hot as the back of a woodfired pizza oven,” Arney said.
“The pressure is crushing 90 times what we have on Earth,” said Matt Garrison, a Payload Systems Engineer on the mission. Arney said this is like standing at the bottom of the Artic Ocean here on Earth.
Finally, it is covered in yellow clouds. “Those clouds are full of sulfuric acid, so it’s acidic and it’s hot and it’s high pressure,” Hays said.
It may not have always been this way. “Even though it’s dramatically different from Earth, it may have been more like Earth’s twin rather than Earth’s evil twin in the distant past”
The data gathered by DAVINCI could help us discover what made the planet the way it is. Arney said it also may help us understand our world’s future as well.