Recently, European Space Agency (ESA) has announced a new mission- EnVision mission to Venus.
About EnVision Mission:
- EnVision is an orbital mission to Venus being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA)
- Itis planned to perform high-resolution radar mapping and atmospheric studies.
- EnVision is designed to help scientists understand the relationships between its geological activity and the atmosphere, and it would investigate why Venus and Earth took such different evolutionary paths.
- The probe was selected as the fifth medium mission (M5) of ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme in June 2021, with launch planned for 2031.
- EnVision, a low-altitude polar orbiter, is the M5 mission candidate in the ESA Science Programme. It will carry 5 instruments and 1 experiment (an S-band Synthetic Aperture Radar, a Subsurface Radar, 3 spectrometers and a radio science experiment).
- EnVision will investigate Venus from its inner core to its atmosphere at an unprecedented scale of resolution, characterising in particular, core and mantle structure, signs of active and past geologic processes and looking for evidence of the past existence of oceans.
- EnVision will help understanding why the most Earth-like planet in the solar system has turned out so differently, opening a new era in the exploration of our closest neighbour.
- The mission will be conducted in collaboration with NASA, with the potential sharing of responsibilities currently under assessment.\
- Once launched on an Ariane 6 rocket, the spacecraft will take about 15 months to reach Venus and will take 16 more months to achieve orbit circularisation.
- The mission will carry a range of instruments to study the planet’s atmosphere and surface, monitor trace gases in the atmosphere and analyse its surface composition.
- EnVision will follow another ESA-led mission to Venus called ‘Venus Express’ (2005-2014) that focused on atmospheric research and pointed to volcanic hotspots on the planet’s surface.
- Other than this, Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft has also been studying the planet’s atmosphere since 2015.
Role of Venus investigations in understanding the Earth
Further Venus exploration to find the causes of differences between Earth and Venus is crucial to understanding how the Solar System works and the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life. This is of particular relevance in this era of discovery and characterisation of a variety of terrestrial planets in other stellar systems and discussion on their path toward habitability. In our solar system, Venus is the most Earth-like planet, yet at some point in planetary history there was a bifurcation between the two: Earth has been continually habitable since the end-Hadean, whereas Venus became uninhabitable. Indeed, Venus is the type-planet for a world that has transitioned from habitable and Earth-like conditions, through the inner edge of the habitable zone ; thus it provides a natural laboratory to study the evolution of habitability.
Venus is the second planet from the Sun and is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. It’s one of the four inner, terrestrial (or rocky) planets, and it’s often called Earth’s twin because it’s similar in size and density. These are not identical twins, however – there are radical differences between the two worlds
Venus has a thick, toxic atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide and it’s perpetually shrouded in thick, yellowish clouds of sulfuric acid that trap heat, causing a runaway greenhouse effect. It’s the hottest planet in our solar system, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun. Surface temperatures on Venus are about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius) – hot enough to melt lead. The surface is a rusty color and it’s peppered with intensely crunched mountains and thousands of large volcanoes. Scientists think it’s possible some volcanoes are still active.
Venus has crushing air pressure at its surface – more than 90 times that of Earth – similar to the pressure you’d encounter a mile below the ocean on Earth.
Another big difference from Earth – Venus rotates on its axis backward, compared to most of the other planets in the solar system. This means that, on Venus, the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east, opposite to what we experience on Earth. (It’s not the only planet in our solar system with such an oddball rotation – Uranus spins on its side.)
Venus was the first planet to be explored by a spacecraft – NASA’s Mariner 2 successfully flew by and scanned the cloud-covered world on Dec. 14, 1962. Since then, numerous spacecraft from the U.S. and other space agencies have explored Venus, including NASA’s Magellan, which mapped the planet’s surface with radar. Soviet spacecraft made the most successful landings on the surface of Venus to date, but they didn’t survive long due to the extreme heat and crushing pressure. An American probe, one of NASA’s Pioneer Venus Multiprobes, survived for about an hour after impacting the surface in 1978.
More recent Venus missions include ESA’s Venus Express (which orbited from 2006 until 2016) and Japan’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter (orbiting since 2016). NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has made multiple flybys of Venus, and on July 11, 2020, the probe came within 516 miles of the surface.
Naming conventions of Venus landscape
Venus features are named after females goddesses, mythological heroines and famous women in international history (poets, writers, artists, scientists) by the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature, with the exception of Alpha Regio, Beta Regio, and Maxwell Montes named after James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879).
The naming of Venus Paterae include 89 famous women in history. More than 900 craters on Venus are named after famous women or female first names, such as Inge Lehmann (1888-1993), a Danish pioneer geophysicist, pictured below. As thousands of never-seen-before geological structures will be discovered by EnVision, there will be renewed opportunities to expand the list in honour of women.