March is so last year. After NASA announced on June 2 that it will launch two probes to Venus before the end of this decade, the European Space Agency (ESA) today joined the party by choosing EnVision, another orbital mission for our sky-wrped twin, to launch in 2031 EnVision of 610 million euros is the latest mid-range issue in ESA’s science program.
Compared to Mars, Venus has seen fewer visits from robotic vessels, but increased interest in climate change and Earth-like exoplanets has led scientists to ask why Venus is now a scorching hot greenhouse with a sulfuric acid atmosphere, having started as much as Earth. ESA’s Venus Express, which operated from 2006 to 2014, helped find hindsight of ancient oceans and active volcanoes on the planet. Strengthening this evidence is a key goal of EnVision, says lead researcher Richard Ghail of Royal Holloway, University of London. “The pattern of volcanoes tells us how the planet works,” he says.
Although there is some overlap in the goals and instruments of the NASA and ESA missions, Ghail says, “They all fit together and in a way, they are in the right order.” NASA’s VERITAS will provide a detailed global picture of the planet’s topogrhy, whereas DAVINCI + will establish compositional composition “Earth’s truth” by jumping into a probe through the atmosphere. EnVision will follow up by zooming in to understand how surface activity affects atmospheric dynamics, Ghail says.
Venus’ thick cloud cover means that optical cameras can not see much, but other wavelengths can penetrate the twilight. EnVision will use an infrared spectrometer to find hot spots on the surface that may indicate active volcanoes. It will use radar to m the surface and look for signs of lava flows. Ultraviolet and high-resolution infrared spectrometers will then look for our water and sulfur dioxide emissions to see if smoldering volcanoes are driving cloud chemistry today.
Ghail believes space agencies have recognized that Venus deserves the same stratified proach used on Mars, where global mping missions have been followed by more targeted observations. “The discovery by Venus Express that there may be volcanism,” he says, “has made it a more interesting place to be.”