The new probe will search for life in the sulfuric acid clouds of Venus

(ORDO NEWS) — While Mars has been actively explored in recent years with the help of numerous rovers and orbiters, Venus against the backdrop of the Red Planet may seem undeservedly forgotten.

To change this state of affairs, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, led by Sara Seager, professor of planetology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT developed a scientific plan and rationale for several separate missions, funded by private companies, that will search for life in the ultra-acid-rich atmosphere of the second planet from the sun.

The first of these missions is slated to launch in 2023 and funded and operated by California-based Rocket Lab. The company’s Electron rocket will send a 20-kilogram probe aboard the Photon spacecraft on a five-month voyage to Venus – after which the probe will only spend three minutes in the Venusian clouds, collecting valuable scientific data, after which it will be irretrievably lost.

Using an onboard instrument called an autofluorescence nephelometer, the probe will direct a laser beam into Venus’s sulfuric acid clouds. In the presence of complex molecules in the clouds of the planet, their glow, or fluorescence, will be observed.

Many organic molecules, such as the amino acid tryptophan, are fluorescent. In addition, the instrument will measure the parameters of light reflected from liquid droplets in the planet’s clouds. Drops of pure sulfuric acid have the correct spherical shape, while the non-spherical shape of the particles may indicate the presence of impurities, the determination of the nature of which will be the next task for scientists if this fact is discovered.

Following the launch of this mission, a more advanced Venusian mission is slated to start around 2026, Seeger says.

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