Europe is sending a probe to Venus, teaming up with NASA to rocket 3 missions to the planet in the next 15 years

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An illustration of the EnVision spacecraft with Earth (left) and Venus (right).

After decades of gazing longingly at Mars, the world’s space agencies are finally turning back to look at Venus.

Last week NASA announced that it had picked two new missions to go to Venus – one, called VERITAS, to orbit the planet and another, called DAVINCI+, to plunge to its surface. Now the European Space Agency (ESA) is throwing its hat in the ring.

The ESA revealed Thursday that it’s sending its own probe to Venus – an orbiter called EnVision. The mission aims to study how the planet’s atmosphere, surface, and interior interact to create the infernal pressure cooker it is today. Together, the three probes spell a renaissance in Venutian science.

“A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, solar system neighbor awaits us,” G√ľnther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, said in a press release. “Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade.”

The NASA missions are set to launch between 2028 and 2030, and the ESA probe sometime in the early 2030s.

Venus’ climate became hellish long ago, but it may have hosted life

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A composite image of Venus from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter.

Venus used to be a lot like Earth. The two planets are about the same size, and they’re made of the same material. Scientists think Venus could have even had oceans in the distant past.

But something happened that drastically changed Venus’ climate. Today it’s the hottest planet in our solar system, thick with yellow, heat-trapping clouds of sulfuric acid. Its average surface temperature is a blistering 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius) – hot enough to melt lead – and its crushing air pressure is more than 90 times that of Earth’s.

The upcoming missions could help scientists understand how Venus became such an extreme environment, whether it was hospitable to life, and whether or not its volcanoes are still erupting.

The world’s interest in Venus was rekindled in September, when a new study suggested the planet’s clouds could harbor microbial aliens.

That’s because researchers found traces of phosphine – a gas typically produced by microbes on Earth – in the upper reaches of Venus’ clouds. However, a follow-up study suggested those trace elements weren’t phosphine, but rather sulfur dioxide, casting doubt on the idea that Venus could be habitable.

These new missions could help settle that debate.

“It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface, all the way down to its very core,” Tom Wagner, a NASA Discovery Program scientist, said in a statement about the NASA missions. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

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A European astronaut says the risk of the uncontrolled Chinese rocket hitting a home is like getting hit by lightning – and if it did, people would only get a few hours’ warning

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People watch a Long March 5B rocket lift off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan, southern China.

  • An uncontrolled Chinese rocket is heading toward Earth, and nobody knows where the debris could land.
  • A European astronaut told Insider it is unlikely they will fall on inhabited areas.
  • But if they did, authorities would only have “very few hours” to warn people, he said.
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It is highly unlikely that debris from the uncontrolled Chinese rocket that’s falling back to Earth will hit inhabited areas, an official from the European Space Agency told Insider on Friday.

But if the rocket were to fall near an inhabited area, authorities would have only “very few hours” to give people warning, Thomas Reiter, an astronaut and the interagency coordinator for the ESA told Insider on Friday.

A large section of a rocket launched by China on April 29 is currently orbiting the Earth and falling toward the atmosphere. But because the rocket is not controlled, it is not clear where or when it will reenter the atmosphere.

Experts currently believe the rocket could land anywhere within 40 degrees of latitude north of south of the Equator.

“A large part is covered by oceans. Another large part is covered by desert,” Reiter said.

He said that for this reason, “we can say that the risk that something hits inhabited area is comparable to a person getting hit by a lightning.”

However, he said, because it won’t be clear where the rocket will land until the last moment, “unfortunately it’s very difficult to give warning to those areas, if it would, for example, fall down inhabited areas.”

“The pre-warning would be within very few hours, probably even less,” Reiter said.

Reiter said most of the rocket is likely to burn up in the atmosphere, where the temperatures upon reentry are more than 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, Reiter told Insider.

But he said it is likely that some parts of the rocket are built with materials that can sustain these high temperatures, the likelihood that those parts of the rocket could hit Earth is “very high,” Reiter said.

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday the majority of the rocket was likely to burn up upon reentry into the atmosphere, and that there was a “very low probability of causing harm to aviation activities and the ground.”

Reiter said: “The risk to hit any inhabited areas should be kept as close to zero as possible.”

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