The BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter probes have provided important clues about Venus’s magnetosphere that will be useful to the next probes that will reach Venus between 2027 and 2031.
The data obtained by the two spacecraft allowed scientists to discover that the Venusian magnetosphere, induced by the solar wind, forms a real barrier that protects the planet’s dense and toxic atmosphere.
Unlike Earth, Venus has a very weak magnetic field, not even generated in the core. For this reason, the Venusian magnetosphere has been compared to the shape of a comet’s tail, around which solar wind particles are slowed, heated, and deflected in a region called the “magnetic shell”. Studying this “protection” will be one of the scientific objectives of the two spacecraft that will reach Venus in the coming years.
Veritas: a partnership between NASA and ASI
The name Veritas stands for “Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy”. It aims to unlock the secrets of the inner workings of perhaps the most mysterious planet in the Solar System.
Veritas is a fundamental mission for the study of the planet, in which NASA and the Italian Space Agency are collaborating.
Italy plays a very important role in this mission, as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory commissioned ISA to design an IDST transponder, an interferometric radar, and a radio frequency antenna.
Veritas is therefore an orbiter that will leave Earth between 2026 and 2028 and will provide very important data that will allow us to study the geological history of Venus, map its surface, studying its plate tectonics and volcanic phenomena.
Venusian volcanoes. Credits: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Peter Rubin
“The instruments that Veritas will carry will provide an unprecedented view of the planet!”Gaetano Di Achille, researcher at Inaf of Teramo and co-investigator on the mission
This mission will finally provide answers to many questions that have remained unanswered for too long. It will help us understand why Venus, unlike Earth, took a very different evolutionary path to become the hell that it is today.
From the data available to the scientific community, it has been possible to determine with certainty that Venus was once very similar to Earth, and Veritas will make it possible to study not only the planet’s past evolution but also its present and future evolution. In all this, the answers could be found in plate tectonics and Venusian volcanoes, the likely culprits of the planet’s frightening geological changes.
DaVinci+ on Venusian surface
DaVinci+ will arrive at Venus in mid-2031. Once in orbit, it will descend into the planet’s dense and toxic atmosphere and land on the surface. DaVinci+, which stands for “Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging“, will be an innovative chemical laboratory equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to analyze the infernal Venusian atmospheric system.
The DaVinci+ spacecraft will also be equipped with powerful ultra-high-resolution cameras that will image Venus’s mountain plateaus and record their rocky composition. DaVinci+ will also map the entire surface of the planet to produce the most detailed and accurate map of Venus that can be produced by orbiters alone.
Jim Garvin, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in an interview that DaVinci+ would be a significant step forward in the study of Earth’s twin planet, providing details about the previously unknown chemical composition of its atmosphere and how a planet like Venus came to be a veritable hellhole.
DaVinci+ will make use of the so-called gravitational slingshot maneuver on Venus, which allows it to save a lot of fuel during orbital insertion. During the first two assists, DaVinci+ will perform ultraviolet and infrared remote sensing of the entire planet, producing 60 GB of data on the atmosphere and surface of Venus. During the third and final assist, DaVinci+ will undock the spacecraft and shortly afterward activate the instruments needed to collect data during the descent.
None of these phases will take place in a short space of time: the first Venus flyby will take place six months after the launch from Earth (scheduled for June 2029), and from there it will take a full two years before the spacecraft is released above Alpha Regio at noon Venusian time. The entire descent will take about an hour, during which the first high-resolution images will be taken.
The undocked spacecraft will be fully clad in titanium plates and fitted with small doors to allow atmospheric gases to enter during the descent and then be studied in situ.
At Goddard, the team behind the mission gave another interview about the mission in which they explained that the spacecraft that is undocked does not necessarily have to survive after touchdown, as it will have collected all the data necessary for the mission to be successful during its descent. If it survives the impact, the probe will only be active for 18 minutes.
The Earth’s evil twin
Venus is thought to be Earth’s twin planet, but the only similarity is in diameter! In fact, Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System, with surface temperatures reaching 460 degrees Celsius (even hotter than Mercury).
Venus is hell not only because of the heat that dominates the surface but also because of the atmospheric pressure, which is 90 times that of the Earth (the same pressure that can be found at a depth of 950 meters in the ocean). To make matters worse for the parachute probe, we have to add the planet’s atmosphere and climate itself! Venus’s atmosphere is extremely toxic, consisting of 96.5% carbon dioxide and the remaining 3.5% nitrogen. The Venusian sky is characterized by the presence of sulfur dioxide clouds, the main cause of the planet’s extremely strong greenhouse effect.