CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — On Friday, June 2, Venus, the closest planet to Earth, will be at its highest point in the night sky, offering a unique viewing experience to stargazers. However, a NASA scientist also spoke with 12 News about their upcoming DAVINCI mission, which will grant a rare view of Venus’ surface and determine whether or not water once flowed across the planet’s surface.
A combination of Earth’s axial tilt and the locations of the planets will position Venus at its highest point in the sky. Because Venus is closer to the sun than Earth is, Venus will appear near the setting sun at around 8 or 9 p.m. Mars will also be close to Venus before the two planets sink below the horizon.
Venus is of particular interest to NASA because they believe the planet may have once had water on its surface millions of years ago before its climate shifted into the “hellish” conditions it experiences today, and NASA’s DAVINCI mission hopes to investigate that past.
“At some point, we believe Venus was actually like Earth,” said Deputy Project Scientist Erika Kohler. “It may have had a more temperate atmosphere, it may have had continents, perhaps even oceans.”
The DAVINCI probe will dive into Venus’ atmosphere and search for isotopes that would indicate a history of water on the planet. Eventually, it will land on the planet to take pictures of the surface, which would be the first pictures of Venus’ surface since the Soviet Venera missions in 1975 and 1982.
This mission is particularly difficult because Venus is an extremely inhospitable place; Its surface temperature is about 900 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead, and its air pressure is 90 times that of Earth, the same pressure you would feel one mile below the surface of the ocean. Not only must the probe be able to survive extreme heat and pressure, but it must also withstand the cold vacuum of space.
“Super easy, yeah,” Kohler said with a laugh.
The DAVINCI mission is expected to launch in 2029 and will take six months to reach Venus from Earth. It will perform two flybys over Venus over the course of 18 months, using its instruments to measure the makeup of the planet’s atmosphere. Its final descent to the planet will take just 59 minutes, Kohler said.