A private company wants to search for life just above Venus

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It’s been well over 30 years since mankind last sent a satellite into Venus’ atmosphere, but a private space startup hopes to end that lull by launching its own probe to the planet in 2023 in search of life. extraterrestrial. Earlier this week, a team from Rocket Lab released its mission architecture paper outlining the company’s imminent plans to explore the clouds above Venus using a small Electron rocket. attached to a 1kg autofluorescent nephelometer, or “an instrument for detecting suspended particles in clouds,” according to Ars-Technica.

“In September 2020, scientists from MIT and Cardiff University announced that they had observed what may be signs of life in the clouds of our neighboring planet, Venus. Their observations indicated the potential presence of phosphine, a gas typically produced by living organisms. In 2023, Rocket Lab is sending the first private mission to Venus to help collect new evidence,” the company promises on its website.

Evidence indicates that Venus once resembled Earth in many ways, with temperatures between 68 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to the existence of several shallow oceans. About 700 million years ago, a massive “resurfacing event” released large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that quickly transformed the planet into a violently inhospitable environment. Today, Venus regularly experiences crushing surface pressures with temperatures regularly reaching 900 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the hottest planet in our solar system. However, living conditions begin to resemble those on Earth about 30 miles above the planet’s surface, which is exactly where Rocket Lab hopes its little probe will reach.

If successful, the satellite will spend about five minutes crossing the window of Venus’ atmosphere, during which time it will transmit its readings to Earth for scientists to study. It is in their hope that these readings will potentially contain new evidence pointing to the existence of microbial life above Venus. “Even with the mass and data rate constraints and the limited time in Venus’ atmosphere, a scientific breakthrough is possible,” say the Rocket Labs scientists in their recent mission paper.

Rocket Lab is one of the lesser-known private spaceflight companies right now, but that will likely change very quickly if they can pull off this ambitious project.

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