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Europe to fly mission to Venus to study its volcanoes

The European Space Agency yesterday announced that it will fly an orbiter to Venus in 2031, dubbed EnVision, to study the estimated million volcanoes on the surface of that hellish planet.

EnVision will use an infrared spectrometer to seek out hot spots on the surface that could indicate active volcanoes. It will use radar to map the surface, looking for signs of lava flows. Ultraviolet and high-resolution infrared spectrometers will then look for water vapor and sulfur dioxide emissions, to see whether smoldering volcanoes are driving cloud chemistry today.

This data will help determine exactly geologically active Venus’s volcanoes are. Several studies in the past decade using archival data (see here, here, and here) have suggested as many as 37 of those volcanoes are active, but this data remains uncertain.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

10 comments

  • It’s kinda interesting this ESA mission is given the green light, along with 2 from NASA within weeks. I fully approve, if your going to explore somewhere extraterrestrial, let the world throw everything at it together to gain coordinated data. But is there any word if some “back room” negotiation has been going on to get all these Venus missions in the same time frame?

    ( I still hold by my opinion there is probably some kind of bacterial life in the atmosphere of Venus, and I have held this for almost 2 decades. At the correct altitude, Venus has the most earth like environment of anywhere in the solar system. Same pressure, same temperature, more moisture, just more acidic… And as far as we know, there is no water on earth that is too acidic for life..)

    So even tho I’m a bit disappointed Enceladus isn’t getting more love, I’m quite happy with a fleet arriving at Venus!

  • Max

    Lee S said;
    “( I still hold by my opinion there is probably some kind of bacterial life in the atmosphere of Venus, and I have held this for almost 2 decades. At the correct altitude,”

    I disagree that there is a bacterial life, otherwise Venus would look much different and less sterile.

    Having said that, you’re on the money for the method to terraform Venus artificially into an ocean world by converting, then collapsing the 92 bars of carbon dioxide atmosphere by introducing Venus with deep ocean vent extremafiles, a first step to convert into an oxygen, water atmosphere.
    It would take a few million years. Meanwhile the human colonization could take place in a cloud city floating at one bar of pressure which is close to 70° in temperature.
    The wind speeds would not make it viable/structurally prohibitive except at the poles vortex where the wind speed is near zero.
    Different organisms for different purposes. Ocean vent plankton is primordial and resist high pressures in high temperatures eating carbon dioxide and leaving behind biomass and calcium carbonate which is fundamental for other plankton and bacteria to feed upon.
    A bio engineered organism that is essentially an air sac with an aerobic bacteria that creates methane allowing the organism to float like a balloon, sucking in sunlight like a plant, eating carbon dioxide, creating sugar that the bacteria can thrive upon reproducing, creating more atmospheric gases and biological carbon to fertilize the surface of otherwise dead world. If reproducing is successful, the sky of Venus will be covered in 100 years in the terraforming “Life pods” to complete terraforming in thousands, not millions of years.
    As the levels of carbon dioxide disappear, so will the bacteria that feeds on the carbon dioxide giving away for oxygen breathing lifeforms.
    As the atmospheric pressure drops, so does the heat allowing the planet to be viable complete with oceans and clouds.
    Eventually there will come a climate sweet spot allowing selected earth life to thrive covering planet without natural diseases… Just before the planets first Ice Age… as with all evolving planets, it must work out the climate that comes naturally achieving the balance that sustains itself. Playing god is an imperfect science.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @Max, regarding terraforming Venus… I’m all in with your plan! I like it! I’ve never considered using biotech exclusively for such a project, but yours makes nothing but sense.. send a mail to Elon!
    I do disagree that Venus would look any different if it has an atmospheric biosphere tho. If life has evolved or traveled to Venus, there is no saying it would have evolved to effect the surface, indeed, if it evolved on Venus in more habitable times, it could have left the surface because of whatever happened to make Venus the hell hole that it is today, clutching on in the only habitable zone available. This makes sense to me, but I guess the only way to be sure is to go and have a look. I’m all for the planned missions, but a tad disappointed there is no plan for some kind of blimp attached to any of them. A balloon for Venus seems like a relatively low cost, high reward “add on” to any orbiting mission. Perhaps someone will forward a plan for an add on in “Ingenuity” style? Fingers crossed!

  • @Lee Stevenson: Make it happen. I believe the the emails for the people of influence in NASA are public record.

  • mkent

    First Mars Sample Return and now this. After the ExoMars fiasco, it pleases me that NASA and ESA have been able to harmonize their planetary science programs to achieve such next-level science. Veritas, Davinci+, and EnVision are complementary missions that together should give us at least a crude understanding of how Venus works as an integrated system.

    It also shows how the Discovery program is picking up the pieces being dropped by the broken New Frontiers program. New Frontiers was supposed to fly a new mission every five years from a list of the most scientifically important missions as put forth by the National Academies of Science in the Decadal Survey. Instead, New Frontiers is flying only once every ten years and is ignoring the Decadal Survey’s missions.

    Fortunately, the Discovery Program is picking up the slack, first with Lucy taking up the Trojan Tour part of the Trojan Tour and Rendezvous mission, and now with Veritas, Davinci+, and EnVision taking up the Venus In-Situ Explorer mission.

    Next we’ll need an Aitken Basin Sample Return mission, a Comet Nucleus Sample Return mission, and an Io Volcano Explorer mission, the last of which was an un-chosen finalist in this recent Discovery Program competition.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @mkent, I get the moon for colonisation, a comet for planetary protection, but Io? It’s pretty and very interesting, but surely Europa or Enceladus are more important targets to answer the really big questions?

  • Lee Stevenson

    @bkivey, I’m sure there are minds vastly greater than my own that are on the case regarding a blimp on Venus .. it’s a hardly new idea, indeed I remember reading a decade or two ago that there was a design for some kind of balloon that would cope with the Venusian atmosphere, involving a Teflon coating if I recall correctly. I guess the idea never stuck.

  • wayne

    Star Trek Original S3-E21
    “The Cloud Minders” trailer
    https://youtu.be/xAwgw-jk9PY
    1:03

  • mkent

    I get the moon for colonisation, a comet for planetary protection, but Io? It’s pretty and very interesting, but surely Europa or Enceladus are more important targets to answer the really big questions?

    Lee Stevenson: These are missions chosen by the National Academy of Sciences based on their scientific merit. Colonization and planetary protection play no part in the choices. The scientists who run the process are very parochial in their recommendations that way.

    The Aitken basin impact site on the far side of the moon is the oldest and deepest impact basin on the moon and can provide insight into the deep crust of the moon and its history. Carefully chosen samples from this region should give scientists a better understanding of the ancient history of the moon and possibly of the Earth too, if the origin story of the moon as resulting from a large impact of the Earth by a Mars-sized object can be confirmed.

    The comet nucleus sample return mission aims to determine whether impacts by tholin-rich comets seeded the Earth with organic compounds early in its history. These compounds may have been the pre-cursors to life on Earth.

    An Io Volcano Explorer is desired by the Academy as a key to understand tidal heating as a fundamental planetary process. Understanding how and where tidal heat is generated in Io and how that heat is raised to the surface should give us insight into not only Io but also other tidally heated worlds such as Ganymede, Europa, Titan, and Enceladus.

    The first two were directed missions in the 2003 Decadal Survey, and Io Volcano Explorer was a directed mission of the 2013 Decadal Survey.

    My beef with the New Frontiers program is that 1) Juno was a poorly designed mission that should not have been chosen over Moonrise, an Aitken basin mission, in 2005. It was only done so to establish bureaucratic independence of NASA’s science directorate during the Vision for Space Exploration era in the 2004-2008 timeframe. And 2) Dragonfly was not even a mission on the Decadal Survey list and should not have been chosen over Caesar, a comet nucleus sample return mission. At the rate New Frontiers is going, it will take another 140 years to fly the high-priority missions already identified by the Academy.

    At least the Discovery program is stepping up to take on these missions, but that creates other problems. 1) The Discovery program’s per-mission budget is only half that of the New Frontiers per-mission budget, so using Discovery to answer the New Frontiers questions leaves important aspects of those questions unanswered, 2) That budget discrepancy is pushing the Discovery cost-cap up to be close to that of a New Frontiers mission, causing stress throughout the entire planetary science program, and 3) That’s not Discovery’s purpose. Discovery is supposed to be for missions thought up by individual senior scientists, allowing NASA to cast a wider net for ideas and be more responsive than working from a centrally planned list ten or twenty years old.

    I’m glad Discovery is filling the void — these are important missions — but it shouldn’t have to. We’d be better off if New Frontiers stayed in its lane.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @mkent, thank you for a deep and informative explanation!

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