NASA is considering approving by April up to two planetary science missions from the four proposals under review, including one to Venus that scientists involved in the project say could help determine whether that planet harbors life.
By MiamiDiario Editorial Staff
A group of astronomers discovered a strange molecule created by microbes in the clouds of Venus, pointing to a sign of life, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) revealed Monday.
In February, the U.S. space agency shortlisted four mission projects that are now being reviewed by a panel. Two of them would involve robotic probes to Venus, and one of these, called DAVINCI+, would send a probe into the planet’s atmosphere.
“ Davinci is the logical one to choose if you’re motivated in part by wanting to follow this up – because the way to follow this up is to actually go there and see what’s going on in the atmosphere,” David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist working on the DAVINCI+ proposal, told Reuters.
The three other proposals include IVO, a mission to Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io; Trident, a fly-by trek to map Neptune’s icy moon Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed Venus missions that instead would focus on understanding the planet’s geological history.
The search for life elsewhere in the solar system has until now not focused on Venus. NASA in July launched a next-generation rover to look for traces of potential past life on Mars.
NASA said they can choose one or two of the missions.
Considering Monday’s findings, NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said it is “time to prioritize Venus.” In a statement, he said the selection process for potential new missions will be difficult but “fair and impartial.”
Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said the selection process should be responsive to recent scientific discoveries.
“If there was a mission to Triton as a finalist, and then somebody with a telescope observed, you know, a soccer stadium on Triton, then arguably yeah, we should send a mission there,” Grinspoon said.
Translated by: Aleuzenev Nogales