Moon, Venus, Jupiter

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Moon, Venus, Jupiter

The last time the United States sent a mission to Venus, the first George Bush was president, and cell phones were as big as your head. Today, we’re getting ready to go back. NASA’s preparing two missions — one to orbit the planet, and the other to drop a probe into its atmosphere.

Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It’s a bit smaller than Earth. Its atmosphere is hot, dense, and toxic, and topped by clouds of sulfuric acid. Those clouds make it impossible to see the surface. But the last American mission, Magellan, which was launched in 1989, used radar to peer through the clouds. It mapped a surface covered by rugged volcanic features.

The new missions are Veritas and Davinci. Like Magellan, Veritas will use radar to map the surface. But its radar will be more powerful, so it’ll provide much better maps. Veritas also will map the composition of the rocks.

Davinci will orbit as well. But it’ll also drop a probe into the atmosphere. It’ll parachute through the clouds and go all the way to the surface. It should tell us more about how the atmosphere formed and evolved, and why it’s so different from Earth’s atmosphere.

Veritas is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2027, with Davinci following two years later.

Venus is the “evening star.” It’s in the southwest at nightfall. The planet Jupiter looms to its upper left. And tonight, the Moon is directly below Venus in the early twilight.

More tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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