NASA scientists are preparing to capture the most detailed picture of Venus’ atmosphere to date when the aptly named DAVINCI — or Deep Atmosphere Venus Exploration of Noble Gases, Chemistry and Imaging — mission lands a probe on the planet’s surface.
When the DAVINCI mission’s 3-foot-wide (0.9 meter) descending sphere embarked on a one-way parachute journey VenusIn the early 2030s, it will carry the VASI (Venus Atmospheric Structure Survey) instrument along with five other instruments. VASI will collect data on air temperature, pressure and winds The atmosphere of Venus as hell descends and enters the planet’s crushing lower atmosphere.
“There are actually some big puzzles about the deep atmosphere of Venus,” said Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland and lead scientist for the VASI instrument. statement. “We don’t have all the pieces of that puzzle, and DAVINCI will give us those pieces by simultaneously measuring pressure and temperature as we approach the surface.”
Related: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captures a stunning photo of Venus during a close-up flyby
Venus’ dense atmosphere hides a number of mysteries, including how it was formed, as well as how the planet’s many volcanoes have interacted with it over the eons. One of the main goals of scientists is to pass the probe through the atmosphere of the second planet the sun is to determine whether that world is still volcanically active. The probe can sniff this out by measuring atmospheric temperature, wind and composition.
Solving these puzzles could give scientists insight into what continued volcanic activity could mean for our own planet’s atmosphere.
“The long-term habitability of our planet, as we understand it, depends on the combination of the interior and the atmosphere,” Lorenz said. “The long-term abundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere really remains dependent on volcanoes, which we rely on to keep Earth’s surface warm enough for habitation over geologic time.”
A one-way trip to Venus
One of the main problems with the study of Venus is the extreme conditions, which are 90 times the surface pressure of the planet. soil and a surface temperature of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (460 degrees Celsius).
In addition, any probe would have to pass through the sulfuric acid clouds in Venus’ upper atmosphere before reaching the planet’s surface from orbit. (These clouds also make it difficult to observe Venus from Earth; reflective and bright, it obscures our view of the planet’s surface.)
These threats mean that DAVINCI’s descending sphere systems and sensors will be embedded in a robust, submarine-like structure. But while the sphere is built to withstand intense atmospheric pressures and insulated to protect its sensors from the intense heat near Venus’ surface, VASI’s sensors must be exposed to some harsh conditions to do their job.
“Venus is difficult. Especially low in the atmosphere, it makes it very difficult to design instruments and systems to support the instruments,” Lorenz said. “All these things have to be either protected from the environment or built in a way to withstand it.”
As the sphere falls through Venus’ atmosphere, VASI will measure the temperature with a sensor inside a thin, straw-like metal tube. As the atmosphere heats the tube, the sensor measures and records the expansion, and thus the temperature, without direct exposure to the corrosive environment.
VASI will collect readings of atmospheric pressure using a silicon membrane inside. One side of the membrane is exposed to the vacuum, while the other side faces the Venusian atmosphere. The atmosphere pushes the membrane, stretches it, and the extent of this stretch reveals the strength of the atmospheric pressure.
The instrument will measure Venus’ winds with a combination of accelerometers that measure changes in speed and direction and gyroscopes that measure orientation. The mission will also track changes in wind speed and direction by tracking shifts in the frequency and wavelength of radio waves.
Named after Italian Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci, DAVINCI is currently set for a 2029 launch. If it stays on schedule, the descending sphere will plunge into Venus’ thick atmosphere in 2031.
The descent will take about an hour. The probe is not expected to survive the fall, but if it does, NASA scientists are prepared to get about 17 minutes of bonus science on the surface with the destroyed device.
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