Venus has been a forgotten planet. From the 1960s through the mid-’90s, the United States and Soviet Union launched two dozen successful missions to our closest planetary neighbor. Since then, there have been just two — one by Europe, the other by Japan. And only the Japanese mission is still going.
We may get reacquainted with Venus over the coming decade and beyond. Four missions have been approved — two by the United States, one by Europe, and one by India.
There are lots of topics for the spacecraft to address. Perhaps the biggest is how “active” Venus is today. The surface of Venus has been repaved by volcanic activity. But it’s been thought that most of that activity took place many millions of years ago, with nothing happening today.
In recent years, though, scientists have found that Venus might be active. There are hints of volcanic gases in the atmosphere, and “hotspots” around volcanic mountains. And from older observations, scientists have suggested that pieces of its crust are still moving around.
But scientists need more observations to settle that debate. The upcoming missions will study the planet’s atmosphere, parachute through the atmosphere, and land on the surface. That could tell us for sure whether Venus is still active.
Venus appears near the Moon the next few mornings. The “morning star” will stand below the Moon in the wee hours of tomorrow, and even closer to it on Thursday.
Script by Damond Benningfield