WASHINGTON: NASA is considering approving up to two planetary science missions out of four plans under consideration by next April, including one for Venus that scientists involved in the project said would help decide whether or not the planet is harbouring life.
An international research team on Monday identified signs of possible microbes living in the harshly acidic Venusian clouds: traces of phosphine, a gas that bacteria inhabiting oxygen-free environments create on Earth. It has provided solid possible proof of life beyond Earth.
In February, the U.S. space agency shortlisted four potential missions that a NASA panel is now evaluating, two of which will include Venus robotic probes. A probe will be sent into the Venusian atmosphere by one of those, called DAVINCI+.
Davinci is the logical option if you are partially inspired by having to follow up on this – because the way to follow this up is to really go there to see what’s going on in the atmosphere,” David Grinspoon, a DAVINCI+ astrobiologist.
The other three projects include IVO, a mission to the volcanically active moon Io of Jupiter; Trident, a fly-by trek to chart Neptune ‘s icy moon Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed Venus missions which would instead concentrate on studying the geological past of the earth. NASA has said one or two of the missions can be selected.
Venus has not been the object of the quest for life elsewhere in the solar system until now. In reality, a next-generation rover was launched by NASA in July to search for evidence of possible past life on Mars.
In light of the findings of Monday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was “time to prioritise Venus.” Bridenstine said in a statement that the selection process for the new possible missions will be tough “but I know that the process would be honest and impartial.”
The selection process should be open to recent scientific findings, Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said.
If there was a mission to Triton as a finalist, and then someone looked at the Triton soccer stadium with a telescope, you know, then we should probably send a mission there, “Grinspoon said.”
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