NASA missions may go to Venus or our solar system’s strangest moons 13 February 2020
An artist’s conception of the VERITAS spacecraft, a proposed mission to Venus for NASA’s Discovery programme
NASA has selected four possible missions to visit some of our solar system’s least understood worlds. The proposals were chosen as part of the agency’s , which funds relatively inexpensive missions within our solar system.
Two of the four aim to explore Venus. The first, DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus), proposes to send a spacecraft plummeting through the planet’s savagely hot and dense atmosphere to measure its composition from top to bottom. This would help us understand how the atmosphere formed and whether Venus ever had .
The second is VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), which would orbit the planet with powerful radar instruments to see through its atmosphere and map the surface, looking for active processes like volcanism or plate tectonics. It could also determine the make-up of the surface and tell us why it is so different from Earth.
The other two proposed missions are to weird moons in our solar system. The Io Volcanic Observer (IVO) is a proposed craft that would make several close passes by Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanically active place in the solar system. While we know that Io is covered in , IVO would help us figure out where the magma that supplies those volcanoes comes from and how exactly they erupt.
The final mission, Trident, is a proposal to fly past Neptune and its enormous moon , which is strangely active – it has icy volcanos, for example – despite being far from the sun and therefore extremely cold. Trident would look for a subsurface ocean on Triton and try to figure out why the moon is so active, which could help us learn how potentially habitable worlds develop.
Each of the teams behind the missions will receive $3 million over the next nine months to develop mission concepts in more detail. At the end of the development period, one or two of them will be selected to actually launch.
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