sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Venus can no longer wait. NASA will send two new robotic missions to Earth’s hothouse twin, the agency’s new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced this afternoon at his “State of NASA” speech here at the agency’s headquarters. The missions, together costing up to $1 billion, mark NASA’s first visit to the planet since the early 1990s, whereas nearby Mars has seen a host of robotic visitors. They’re expected to launch by the decade’s end.
The scientific case for exploring Venus has long been strong. No planet has more to say about how Earth came to be. Mars is tiny and frozen, its heat and atmosphere largely lost to space long ago. Venus could host active volcanoes, and it may have once featured oceans and continents, which are critical to the evolution of life. Plate tectonics roughly like Earth’s might have held sway there, or might be starting today, hidden under the clouds. Venus also proves by example that orbiting within a star’s “habitable zone” doesn’t guarantee a planet is suitable for life. Understanding how Venus’s atmosphere went bad and turned into a runaway greenhouse, boiling away any oceans and baking the surface, could help astronomers studying other solar systems distinguish truly Earth-like exoplanets from our evil twins.