ESA prepare mission to Venus

by Chris Bergin

Earth’s “evil twin” will be the focus of Europe’s next £150m mission to space. Scientists from the European Space Agency are preparing to launch the Venus Express craft on a five month quest.

The journey is the first to Venus, our closest neighbour, for 15 years and will help study the effects of global warming.
Venus is similar in size and mass to Earth and about the same distance from the Sun but their environments could not be further apart.

Beneath Venus’s thick carbon dioxide atmosphere, the surface bakes at 450C and the atmospheric pressure is 90 times greater than the Earth’s. Sulphuric acid rain falls from the sky, there have been planet-wide volcano eruptions and scientists think volcanic activity probably goes on all the time.

Dr Andrew Coates, one of several British scientists involved in the mission, said: “Venus is sometimes called Earth’s ‘evil twin’.

“It has some similarities like size, but big differences like hotter-than-oven temperatures, sulphuric acid clouds, crushing surface pressure, rotation the ‘wrong’ way around its axis – and no protective magnetic field,” he said to Sky News.

“Venus Express will look at how the planet’s thick atmosphere works, and how it interacts with the surface below and escapes to space above. Studying Venus, especially the runaway greenhouse effect, may give us vital lessons for the Earth’s future.”

It is hoped Venus Express will study mysterious hurricane-like vortices above the poles and also probe down to the surface, where the clouds are thinner.

Scientists and engineers from a number of British institutions and companies have contributed to the project, which launches on October 26.

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