NASA will head to Venus for first time in roughly 30 years

Two spacecraft aim to solve deep mysteries about the nearby planet, including why it resembles a hellish, toxic version of Earth.

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Spacecraft are able to peer through the thick atmosphere of Venus, revealing an alien surface that in some ways is eerily Earth-like.

NASA had a surprise in store for planetary scientists today: During a “State of NASA” briefing, the agency announced that roiling, toxic Venus will be the target of the next two missions in its highly competitive Discovery program.

“These two sister missions, both aimed to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface—they will offer the entire science community the chance to investigate a planet we haven’t been to in more than 30 years,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during the briefing. “We hope these missions will help further our understanding of how Earth evolved and why it’s currently habitable, when other [rocky planets] in our solar system are not.”

One spacecraft, called DAVINCI+, will study the planet’s toxic atmosphere—a thick shroud of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid clouds. The other, VERITAS, will make detailed maps of the planet’s surface and try to reconstruct its geologic history.

 The pair beat out two other finalists, which would have sent probes to Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io or Neptune’s moon Triton—destinations that have been high on planetary science wish lists for decades.

The announcement comes amid surging interest in a U.S.-led mission to Venus, which some planetary scientists have considered “the forgotten planet.” Venus is remarkably similar to Earth in size and mass. And although it is a hellish, inhospitable world today, it may once have been a temperate, ocean-covered planet like our own. Understanding how Venus became such an extremely unfriendly world is crucial for understanding...

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