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Tue Aug 30, 2022, 11:13 AM

The first private mission to Venus will have just five minutes to hunt for life

As the covid pandemic raged in late 2020, all eyes turned briefly from our troubled planet to our planetary neighbor Venus. Astronomers had made a startling detection in its cloud tops: a gas called phosphine that on Earth is created through biological processes. Speculation ran wild as scientists struggled to understand what they were seeing.

Now, a mission due to be launched next year could finally begin to answer the question that has excited astronomers ever since: Could microbial life be belching out the gas?

Although later studies questioned the detection of phosphine, the initial study reignited interest in Venus. In its wake, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) selected three new missions to travel to the planet and investigate, among other questions, whether its conditions could have supported life in the past. China and India, too, have plans to send missions to Venus. “Phosphine reminded everybody how poorly characterized [this planet] was,” says Colin Wilson at the University of Oxford, one of the deputy lead scientists on Europe’s Venus mission, EnVision.

But the bulk of those missions would not return results until later in the 2020s or into the 2030s. Astronomers wanted answers now. As luck would have it, so did Peter Beck, the CEO of the New Zealand­–based launch company Rocket Lab. Long fascinated by Venus, Beck was contacted by a group of MIT scientists about a bold mission that could use one of the company’s rockets to hunt for life on Venus much sooner—with a launch in 2023. (A backup launch window is available in January 2025.)

Phosphine or no, scientists think that if life does exist on Venus, it might be in the form of microbes inside tiny droplets of sulfuric acid that float high above the planet. While the surface appears largely inhospitable, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and pressures similar to those at the bottom of Earth’s oceans, conditions about 45 to 60 kilometers above the ground in the clouds of Venus are significantly more temperate.

“I’ve always felt that Venus has got a hard rap,” says Beck. “The discovery of phosphine was the catalyst. We need to go to Venus to look for life.”


My inner 10-year-old is just geeking out all over the place lately!

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Reply The first private mission to Venus will have just five minutes to hunt for life (Original post)
Jilly_in_VA Aug 30 OP
The Unmitigated Gall Aug 30 #1
Jilly_in_VA Aug 30 #2

Response to Jilly_in_VA (Original post)

Tue Aug 30, 2022, 02:28 PM

1. I don't let my inner 10-year-old out, much.

It likes to come up with words the names of planets rhyme with.

My inner 22-year-old is better and deeply appreciative!

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Response to Jilly_in_VA (Original post)

Tue Aug 30, 2022, 02:35 PM

2. My inner 10 year old

wanted to be an astronomer. That was before she knew how much math was involved and met two absolutely horrible math teachers in high school who managed to teach her absolutely nothing and made her hate math forever.

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