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Hints of life renew interest in Venus, and a private mission could lead the way

14 Sep 2020, 22:53 UTC
Hints of life renew interest in Venus, and a private mission could lead the way
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A synthesized false color image of Venus, using 283-nm and 365-nm band images taken by the Venus Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) on Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter. Credit: JAXA / ISAS / Akatsuki Project Team
The announcement Monday of the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus — an indicator of possible life — has raised hopes among scientists for new robotic missions to renew exploration of the planet closest to Earth.
If Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck gets his way, a privately-funded mission could get the next crack at probing Venus’s soupy atmosphere. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also tweeted Monday: “It’s time to prioritize Venus.”
“Life on Venus? The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth,” Bridenstine tweeted.
Venus is home to a hellish landscape that lies a the bottom of an opaque atmosphere made of carbon dioxide, with scorching surface temperatures as hot as 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius). Sometimes called Earth’s “evil twin,” it’s the closest world to our own, but it’s not the kind of place that seems hospitable for life at first look.
At Venus’s scalding surface, the atmosphere is ...

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