NASA scientists are preparing to paint the most detailed picture yet of Venus’s atmosphere when the aptly named DAVINCI — or Venus Deep Exploration of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging — mission drops a probe on the planet’s surface.
When the 3-foot-wide (0.9 m) landing field of the DAVINCI mission takes a one-way parachute flight to VenusIn the early 2030s, it will carry the VASI (Venus Atmospheric Structure Investigation) instrument along with five other instruments. VASI will collect data related to temperature, pressure and wind in Venus’ atmosphere Because it descends from Hell and enters the planet’s overwhelming lower atmosphere.
“There are really some big mysteries about Venus’s deep atmosphere,” said Ralph Lorenz, a VASI instrument scientist and planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland. statement. “We don’t have all the pieces of this puzzle and DAVINCI will give us those pieces by measuring the composition at the same time as pressure and temperature as we approach the surface.”
Related: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captures stunning image of Venus during close flyby
Venus’s dense atmosphere hides many mysteries, including how it was formed, as well as how many volcanoes interacted with it over the ages. One of the main goals of scientists is to push a probe through the atmosphere of the second planet from the sun is to determine if this world is still volcanically active. The probe can smell this from measurements of atmospheric temperatures, winds, and composition.
Solving these mysteries may give scientists an idea of what continued volcanic activity could mean for our planet’s atmosphere.
“The long-term habitability of our planet, as we understand it, depends on the coupling of the interior and the atmosphere,” Lorenz said. “The long-term abundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which we really depend on to keep the Earth’s surface warm enough to be habitable over geological time, depends on volcanoes.”
A one-way trip to Venus
One of the major challenges associated with investigating Venus has been the planet’s extreme conditions, which are characterized by surface pressures up to 90 times greater than those of Venus. a land The surface temperature is around 900°F (460°C).
In addition, before any probe reaches the surface of the planet from orbit, it must first pass through clouds of sulfuric acid in the upper atmosphere of Venus. (These clouds happen to make it difficult to observe Venus from Earth; they are reflective and shiny, obscuring our view of the planet’s surface.)
These threats mean that DAVINCI’s landing field systems and sensors will be enclosed in a heavy-duty submarine-like structure. But while the sphere is designed to withstand extreme atmospheric pressures and insulated to protect the sensors from the intense heat near the surface of Venus, the VASI sensors must be exposed to some degree of extreme conditions in order to do their job.
“Venus is tough,” Lorenz said. “Conditions, especially in the lower atmosphere, make it very difficult to engineer instruments and systems to support instruments.” “Everything that has to be protected from the environment or built in some way to withstand it.”
When the ball drops through Venus’s atmosphere, VASI will measure the temperature using a sensor inside a thin metal straw-like tube. When the atmosphere heats the tube, the sensor measures and records the expansion and thus temperature without direct exposure to the corrosive environment.
VASI will collect atmospheric pressure readings using a silicone membrane covered inside. One side of the membrane is exposed to the vacuum, while the other side faces the envelope of Venus. The atmosphere pushes and stretches the membrane, and the extent of this stretch reveals the strength of the atmospheric pressure.
The instrument will measure Venus’ winds with an array of accelerometers that test changes in speed and direction, and gyroscopes that measure direction. The mission will also track changes in wind speed and direction by observing shifts in the frequency and length of radio waves.
Named after the Italian Renaissance scientist Leonardo da Vinci, DAVINCI is currently scheduled to launch in 2029. If it stays on schedule, the landing field will plunge into Venus’s thick atmosphere in 2031.
The drop will take about an hour. The probe is not expected to survive the fall, but if it does, NASA scientists will be willing to get about 17 minutes of additional science on the surface with the doomed instrument.
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