NASA Picks Twin Missions To Visit Venus, Earth's 'Evil Twin' The two space probes will study Venus, a scorching hot world that may have once been like Earth. NASA chose the Venus missions over other candidates, such as trips to the moons of Jupiter and Neptune.

NASA Picks Twin Missions To Visit Venus, Earth's 'Evil Twin'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An official U.S. government description includes the words hot, hellish and unforgiving. It could describe so many things. But in this case, it's NASA describing the planet Venus - just before announcing that it's going to send two probes there. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports they will explore how Venus became so noxious that it's sometimes called Earth's evil twin.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Venus is our closest planetary neighbor. It's about the same size as Earth and probably was made from the same kind of stuff. But while Earth is a cozy place for life, Venus is a hellscape with a poisonous atmosphere and a surface hotter than 800 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA administrator Bill Nelson says that's why the agency wants to go.

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BILL NELSON: These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: One mission, VERITAS, will orbit the planet and make a detailed study of its geology. The other, DAVINCI+, will send a spherical probe plunging down towards its surface through its sulfuric acid clouds to study the atmosphere. The news has thrilled scientists who've been urging NASA to return to Venus for a long time.

DARBY DYAR: Incredible. You know, 30 years in the making and 30 years of the waiting.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Darby Dyar is a planetary geologist with Mount Holyoke College and the Planetary Science Institute. She says Venus has been neglected while NASA sent rover after rover to Mars.

DYAR: I think that somehow Venus just paled in comparison.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Even though scientists now think that Venus used to be a far more pleasant world and likely even had liquid water oceans for billions of years. Dyar says, who knows? Maybe life evolved there.

DYAR: If you're going to look for a place where there's evidence for habitation in our solar system, it turns out that Venus is the place to go.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And while its surface is now too hot for life, some researchers have speculated that microbes might be hanging on up in the clouds. Venus lovers will learn more after these missions launch, which is targeted for later this decade.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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