10 mysteries of Venus.

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Venus, artwork – stock illustration (Image Credite : Gettyimages)

The surface of Venus is entirely unsuitable for life: barren, arid, squashed beneath an atmosphere approximately 90 times the pressure of Earth’s and baked by temperatures two times hotter than an oven. But was it always that way? Could Venus previously have been a twin of Earth—a livable planet with liquid water oceans? This is one of the numerous mysteries related to our cloaked sister planet.

27 years have elapsed since NASA’s Magellan spacecraft last orbited Venus. That was NASA’s most recent voyage to Earth’s sister planet. Although we have acquired tremendous information about Venus since then, countless mysteries remain unexplained regarding the planet. NASA’s DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) mission intends to alter that.

Here are seven mysteries of Venus that NASA scientists are currently wrestling with:

1. Did Venus ever host life?

Big questions are commonly raised while thinking about distant planets: Is there life? WAS there ever life? If so, what type of life? Tiny germs that mimic primitive life on Earth? Or like nothing we have ever recognized?

Venus is no exception.

“The community has speculated about possible life on Venus, but until we know whether Venus was ever actually habitable in the past, it’s difficult to say much more beyond these speculations,” says Dr Giada N. Arney, deputy principal investigator for DAVINCI at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. “DAVINCI intends to assist us understand if Venus was ever livable, which would offer a more definite foundation on which we can research it as a potential previous home for life… It’s thrilling to think there’s a potential our solar system had two livable planets side-by-side for possibly even billions of years, but we don’t yet know whether this was the case.”

To establish if life was ever conceivable on Venus, we first need to study the previous climate on Venus. This entails researching the atmosphere, geology, and history of the planet. “We always want to ask the life question, but unless we understand the context in which we’re asking it, we won’t know what we’re searching for and may be even more perplexed or tantalized,” argues Dr James B. Garvin, lead investigator for DAVINCI at NASA Goddard.

2. How did Venus and Earth come to be so different?

Venus and Earth are comparable in size and density; therefore, these planets may be highly similar. And yet, they are remarkably different. Air pressure at the surface of Venus is 90 times that of Earth, Venus spins on its axis backwards compared to the other planets in the solar system, and the surface of Venus is over 900 degrees Fahrenheit (about 482 Celsius), making it the hottest planet in our solar system—hot enough to melt lead. This intense heat on the surface of Venus is owing to a carbon dioxide atmosphere with thick clouds of sulfuric acid, which might have occurred from a runaway greenhouse phase earlier in Venus’ history that irrevocably transformed our sister globe.

So, what happened? Was Venus always so inhospitable? “Why are we so good and they so bad?” asks Garvin. “It is the essential issue, because in the long run, that is going to effect the development of our own planet. Maybe Venus is a destiny storyboard that will help us fill in the broader tale of our planet.”

The history of Venus over time may help us comprehend mechanisms that regulate global-scale changes in a planet’s environment, including the evolution of the planet’s habitability, with implications for where we could find livable worlds outside the solar system. “Venus is an essential instance of how planetary habitats may develop through time, and understanding that evolution is vital to our thinking in the hunt for life beyond Earth,” adds Dr Stephanie A. Getty, deputy principal investigator for DAVINCI at NASA Goddard.

3. How did Venus form?

Even this apparently simple topic regarding the genesis of Venus is still a mystery. “It’s astounding to me that we don’t know if Venus developed from the same early solar system materials as did Earth and Mars,” adds Getty. “We still don’t know if Venus was pounded by comets and asteroids, rich in water, the way Earth was.” These comets and asteroids that pummeled our home planet are regarded to have been a vital supply of water for Earth. Understanding the water supply to Venus is vital for appraising its ability to host seas in the past.

4. What is the atmospheric composition at Venus?

The atmospheric composition of Venus is a crucial component of the background we are seeking as we strive to better analyze Venus’ potential habitability throughout time. “We genuinely do not know the crucial trace compounds in the Venus atmosphere,” adds Garvin. “We don’t understand the chemical cycles that offer clues to how it has developed and the importance of these chemical cycles in Venus’ history—these unknowns are the fingerprints that have been absent for much too long.”

The DAVINCI probe will detect chemicals, pressure, temperature, and dynamics at least every 200 meters (approximately 656 feet) as it descends into Venus’ atmosphere. One of the major mysteries of Venus’ atmosphere is in the lowermost or “deep” atmosphere. Typically, planetary atmospheric gases behave like those we learn in high-school chemistry—their behaviour may be predicted as “ideal gases” and is well known. But in Venus’ lower atmosphere (nearest the surface of the planet), carbon dioxide is heated and compressed to the point where it operates more like a hot liquid than a gas—only approximately twelve times less dense than liquid water. “This unusual activity is termed ‘supercritical,” and on Venus, the atmosphere that sloshes about the surface landscapes and rocks is supercritical carbon dioxide, which is little understood,” explains Garvin. “We have to get there and measure what is going on to figure out how this works on a planetary scale. That implies there’s a whole new frontier on Venus. That’s a new environmental situation that we’re not accustomed to.”

5. How were the rocks of Venus formed?

The last spacecraft to safely drop through the atmosphere and land on Venus was the Soviet VeGa-2 mission in 1985, which lasted for 52 minutes on the planet’s inhospitably hot surface on the “night side” of the planet. At its landing location, it was surrounded by basaltic plains produced by volcanism; however, other highland areas on Venus are considered different. Thus, the surface of Venus remains quite the enigma, particularly in locations beyond the volcanic plains.

The DAVINCI spacecraft will be equipped with a system of four cameras jointly named VISOR (Venus Imaging System for Observational Reconnaissance), which will determine rock composition on the planet’s surface. “Most of the surface of Venus is formed of basalt, which is created by volcanism,” adds Arney. “But there are also fascinating mountainous highland areas dubbed ‘tesserae’ (regions of significantly deformed topography) that give signs of having a distinct makeup. They may be formed of rocks that develop through water-rock interactions and continent-building processes (which may indicate Earth-like plate tectonics), and if so, it’s incredibly interesting since it would reflect more favorable circumstances in the Venus past.” The DAVINCI probe will descend over one of these “tesserae,” dubbed Alpha Regio, and will make measurements with its Venus Descent Imager (VenDI) sensor. “This will help us better grasp what this ‘tessera’ is constructed of,” says Arney.

6. How much water did Venus have?

Liquid water is needed for life. We cannot judge Venus’ previous habitability without understanding how much water Venus may have had—and when and how it lost that water. Scientists can utilize the bulk chemical composition of rocks discovered on Venus to uncover the enigma of water on the planet. “If we uncover ‘granites’ in the mountains of Venus, then we may deduce they must have included significant quantities of water in the Venus crust to enable them to develop as they do on Earth,” argues Garvin.

Scientists may also utilize observations of the atmosphere to investigate the history of water at Venus. The DAVINCI probe’s Venus Mass Spectrometer and Venus Tunable Laser Spectrometer will measure air composition during its entire fall into the surface of the planet. The air signals observed may reveal clues to the narrative of former water, which may help scientists establish if the planet ever had an ocean. “We think but do not know if there were seas on Venus, and if so, when in Venus’ history the water disappeared,” adds Getty.

7. What is the nature of surface activity at Venus?

Scientists are continually making findings to comprehend if Venus ever had Earth-style plate tectonics and how those mountain-building processes are comparable or different from Earth’s. Earth’s crust contains a network of relatively thin plates moving about on the planet’s surface in a continual horizontal motion. If similar plate tectonics exist on Venus, now or in the past, the planet’s crust must experience the movement of crustal plates over geologic time, mid-ocean-ridge volcanism (volcanic activity present at maritime boundaries between two plates), and subduction (the movement of one plate sinking underneath another plate) (the movement of one plate sinking underneath another plate). The history of Venus tectonics is still an active topic of study with many outstanding issues. Some scientists think Venus has preserved plate tectonics with laterally sliding pieces of crust. In contrast, others suggest that this phase in Venus’ history is long in the past, maybe when liquid water was either at the surface or plentiful inside the crust.

At some stage, Venus may have had its own plate tectonics—possibly distinct from the plate tectonics here on Earth. Water and rock measurements obtained from the DAVINCI mission, combined with the Venus global mapping information by NASA’s VERITAS mission, another recently selected mission to Venus that is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, can be used to decipher how these tectonic patterns may have operated on Venus, and why the planet was unable to sustain them in a fashion similar to Earth. Venus is an excellent test case for exploring how plate tectonics or any other sort of crustal movement endures or vanishes on massive, rocky planets with atmospheres and a shifting (but vast) budget of both crustal and surface water.

Another significant question regarding the surface of Venus is volcanism. All planets must get rid of their internal heat, and Earth’s technique requires volcanism as a related process. Scientists are still guessing whether the surface of Venus is presently volcanically active and to what degree eruptions occur now. Together, the DAVINCI and VERITAS missions attempt to answer these concerns. DAVINCI can monitor gases in the Venus atmosphere that might indicate whether volcanoes have erupted or are erupting on Venus now. At the same time, the VERITAS orbiter will be able to examine the deformation of the crust, the chemical signature of recent volcanism, and the thermal signature of big erupting lavas.

8. What do the mountains look like on Venus?

Previous Venus landers (Venera & VeGa) have taken photographs of the Venusian plains after landing on basaltic regions of the surface. Still, DAVINCI’s cameras will snap the first-ever high-resolution aerial photos of a mountainous tessera surface as the probe descends over the rugged Alpha Regio highlands region.

“Where we’re landing on Venus is in the highlands,” says Garvin. “No one’s ever gone to the mountains before… When we view them from a mile up, they may appear like nothing ever seen by woman or man before, since no one’s ever been there to witness them.” Such rough mountain ranges may contain hints about how erosion on Venus occurs now. Similarly, they could reveal if sedimentary rocks were crucial in creating the highlands of Venus as they usually are on Earth.

9. Are there Venus-like planets outside our solar system (exoplanets)?

Scientists are thrilled about the notion of taking what we learn from Venus and applying it to exoplanets—planets beyond our solar system. Venus-like exoplanets are projected to be a frequent planet seen by the future James Webb Space Telescope. Improved measurements of Venus may enable us to comprehend these faraway worlds. “We’ll be able to compare what we learn at Venus to what we discover from studies of Venus-like exoplanets detected by the James Webb Space Telescope in the 2020s,” adds Arney. “For instance, data from Venus may enhance computer models of Venus-like exoplanets that we will use to understand our future James Webb observations. Also, if Venus was livable in the past, that suggests some of these “Venus-like’ exoplanets may be habitable too. Understanding the history of Venus may thus allow us to comprehend and interpret exo-Venus planets found at diverse ages and stages of development.”

10. New riddles we haven’t even thought about yet

“One of the most intriguing elements of planetary exploration is uncovering new secrets that we can’t presently foresee,” adds Arney. “Those fresh mysteries we can’t yet envision are what I’m looking forward to the most.” This is the core of curiosity-driven research, and DAVINCI will give lots of opportunities for new mysteries to be uncovered and even resolved. What may Venus be hiding? We must go there to find out! “Venus here we come” is the catch-phrase of the DAVINCI crew.

Also Read: An alien planet lost its atmosphere after a massive collision.

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