VERITAS: exploring the deep truths of Venus

(ORDO NEWS) — The VERITAS mission, observing Venus, can help to understand the evolution of our planet and even rocky planets orbiting other stars.

Imagine the Earth. Now fill the sky with thick, shaded by the sun clouds of sulfuric acid; evaporate the oceans, raise the temperature to 500 degrees Celsius, and increase the air pressure enough to smooth us out. Now we have Venus – a rocky planet, similar in size to the Earth, but differing in almost any other sign.

The extent to which these sister planets evolved in different ways has been an urgent scientific issue for decades, and a proposed mission called VERITAS seeks to provide answers by improving our understanding of the internal geodynamics that shaped the second planet.

VERITAS (short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography & Spectroscopy) is being reviewed for selection by NASA’s Discovery Program and will be operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. Project partners include Lockheed Martin, the Italian Space Agency, the German Space Agency and the French Space Agency.

“Venus is like a space loser,” said Suzanne Smrekar, VERITAS chief researcher at JPL. “There are two planetary bodies, Earth and Venus, which began to develop almost identically, but went along two completely different evolutionary paths, and we do not know why.”

The last mission to study the surface of the planet was the NASA Magellan spacecraft and it ended in 1994. The device transmitted tantalizing clues about the geology of Venus, but the devices could not with certainty assume the origin of many features of the surface of Venus.

Proposed to be launched in 2026, VERITAS will revolve around the planet and observe through shaded clouds using a powerful modern radar system for creating three-dimensional global maps and a near infrared spectrometer to determine the surface composition. He will also measure the planet’s gravitational field to determine the structure of the inside of Venus. Together, the tools will give clues about past and present geological processes of the planet, from its core to the surface.

Window to the Early Earth
The Earth has a hard crust, covering a planet, which is divided into a mosaic of tectonic plates on top of the mantle. Convection in the mantle helps control the movement of surface slabs. When some plates sink inward (a process known as subduction), they melt, and the degassing of volcanic substances releases volatile elements (such as water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and methane) into the atmosphere.

Having learned more about geological processes on Venus, where the warm crust is a good analogy for the early Earth, when plates were just beginning to form, you can get a valuable look at the beginning of these processes on Earth.

“The biggest mystery for me is the degree of deformation structures on Venus (areas of rock on the surface that have bent under enormous geological pressure) that can be studied to understand the nature of tectonic activity on the planet,” commented Joan Stoke, professor of geology and geophysics, a member of the scientific group at the Caltech seismological laboratory in Pasadena.

The creation of VERITAS high-resolution 3D topographic maps will bring into focus the structures that used to be too small to be considered. These structures may include embossed topography on both sides of the faults, such as the San Andreas fault, which is an indicator of basic tectonic activity. VERITAS will also seek active destruction of the surface using interferometric strain maps for the first time outside the Earth.

VERITAS will study extensive deformation structures – tessera. These plateau-like features may be similar to the continents of the Earth. The leading theory is that the Earth’s continents formed when the iron-rich oceanic crust subducted and melted in the presence of water, creating huge volumes of new, less iron-rich continental crust that rose above the ocean.

To determine if the tessera of the Venus plateau has formed similarly to the Earth’s continents, VERITAS will create the first global multispectral maps of the composition of the surface of Venus. If their composition resembles that of the continental crust, we will also receive information about the wetter past of Venus.

Volcanic world

On Earth, plate tectonics and volcanism go hand in hand. But what about Venus?

“Determining whether Venus is actively exposed to volcanic activity, and understanding what drives this process, is one of the really exciting questions I would like to get answers to,” says planetary scientist Jennifer Whitten, a member of the VERITAS research group at the university Tulane in New Orleans.

Using a spectrometer, VERITAS will determine which rocks have recently been formed as a result of magma eruption before interactions with the atmosphere could change their chemical composition. In addition, the spectrometer will look for hot spots from active eruptions, while the radar device will look for active faults, which indicates tectonic activity.

By exploring the volcanoes of Venus and the geophysical processes that cause them, scientists will also be able to assess their impact on the planet’s climate and perhaps answer another key question: does the interior of the planet contain large amounts of water, like Earth?

Creating inhabited planets

Plate tectonics and volcanism do not just affect the shape of the planet; they are closely related to the habitability of the planet. Plate tectonics greatly affects the Earth’s long-term climate, influencing processes that keep the atmosphere in balance: volcanism, which releases volatiles into the atmosphere, and subduction, which recycles volatiles back. In addition, the formation and erosion of the Earth’s continents have a great influence on the composition of the oceans and atmosphere. Together, these processes provide nutrients and a favorable climate for life.

But what is the subtle geodynamic balance that ultimately makes the planet liveable? Given the discovery of thousands of exoplanets orbiting stars other than the sun, the answer may help to understand their nature.

“To uncover the secrets of Venus, we must look into the inside of Venus; it’s the engine for global geological and atmospheric evolution, ”said Smrekar. “Are Venus and Earth essentially unique worlds? Or are the differences between these “twins” purely cosmetic? The answer to this question will be the key to understanding what makes other rocky planets suitable for life and, ultimately, the emergence of life. ”


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