Earth and Venus travel around the Sun in neighboring orbits and both are rocky planets about the same size, but there the similarities end—at least in how the two worlds exist today. Venus’ desiccated surface roasts at nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit beneath an opaque and crushing atmosphere over 90 times denser than Earth’s, and global tectonic motion—if it ever existed at all—appears to have long come to a standstill on Venus.
The last detailed study of Venus’ surface took place over 26 years ago with NASA’s Magellan mission. Now scientists in the U.S. and Europe are proposing NASA’s return to Venus with VERITAS, which would launch in 2026 and send an orbiter with the latest technology to map Venus’ surface in high resolution 3D.
(News from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography & Spectroscopy, VERITAS is being considered for selection under NASA’s Discovery Program and would be managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Venus is like this cosmic gift of an accident,” said Suzanne Smrekar, principal investigator of VERITAS at JPL. “You have these two planetary bodies – Earth and Venus – that started out nearly the same but have gone down two completely different evolutionary paths, but we don’t know why.”
Proposed for a 2026 launch, VERITAS would orbit the planet and peer through the obscuring clouds with a powerful state-of-the art radar system to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of. It would also measure the planet’s gravitational field to determine the structure of Venus’ interior. Together, the instruments would offer clues about the planet’s past and present geologic processes, from its core to its surface.
“To unwrap the mysteries of Venus we have to look under the hood at Venus’ interior; it is the engine for global geologic and atmospheric evolution. Are Venus and Earth fundamentally unique worlds? Or are the differences between these ‘twins’ only cosmetic? Answering this question is key to understanding what makes other rocky planets habitable and, ultimately, emerge with life.”
— Suzanne Smrekar, JPL, principal investigator of VERITAS