Focusing on some intriguing clouds swirling around the atmosphere of Venus to look into the presence of alien life, a team of American and Russian scientists are embarking on a new mission to the second planet.
Called Venera-D, the new probe is poised to send an uncrewed aerial vehicle to the heart of Venus’ atmosphere to take measurements over a long period of time. Once approved, the mission would be a joint effort between NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
The main goal is to determine whether those thick and sulfuric acid clouds of the planet that appear to absorb ultraviolet radiation could be proof of microbial life.
Dark Streaks From Aliens?
“It’s a possibility we can’t overlook,” University of Wisconsin atmospheric scientist Sanjay Limaye told Astrobiology Magazine, asserting that the only way to know is to go to Venus and sample its atmosphere.
Russian planetary science has long been keen on Venus, landing probes on its surface from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The joint endeavor seeks to launch anew an orbiter toward the planet in 2021, create remote-sensing observations, deploy a lander to the surface, and study future landing sites.
Potential additions to the mission include a small sub-orbiter to investigate the Venusian magnetosphere, as well as the planned UAV to answer questions on potential extraterrestrial life. The UAV’s main objective is to take measurements to know why the atmosphere rotates so quickly relative to the surface, an occurrence dubbed as super-rotation, a phenonemon identified in the ‘60s by astronomers monitoring the dark atmospheric streaks.
Those dark streaks swirling around Venus’ atmosphere have been the subject of speculation for decades now. Some scientists believe they are particulates such as sulfur or iron that have merged with the clouds, while others think they could be ice. However, the planet is almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius) on the surface, effectively rendering the latter impossible.
What is known so far is that the streaks absorb UV light unlike what else is found on the atmosphere. If ever they are partly formed by microbial life, too, they are likely to have ring-shaped protective polymers, which would ward off large sulfuric acid amounts.
Previous issues with a Venus probe involve its high-pressure surface and much higher temperatures that challenge tech capabilities. Mariner 5, the first to successfully land there, survived only 93 minutes.
Vehicle Design Plans
The original design for Venera-D includes balloons that patrol the air, but this posed maneuvering problems and and the inability to reach the areas with dark streaks. A solar-powered UAV is then projected to propel through the clouds for nighttime data collection.
At daytime, its helium reserves would keep it buoyed without consuming power, while huge wings would assist in navigation during storms.
The vehicle is envisioned to survive for a year or so as it continues to circle around the planet, versus stay on the surface and contend with the oppressive conditions.
The final report that will outline the mission goals will be submitted to the space agencies by the end of the month. An answer from them is not expected until late this year at the earliest.