It’s a star! It’s a UFO! Nope it’s probably Venus. If you’ve ever gone outside for a late walk and spotted a big gorgeous bright “star” in the sky, it’s likely that you were looking at Venus. The planet is named after the Roman goddess of love, and NASA is giving Venus a little extra love right now: It’s in the process of evaluating two possible missions to the planet, and both of them have the potential to reshape our understanding of how terrestrial planets form, Venus in particular. Venus is covered in a thick atmosphere primarily composed of carbon dioxide gas created in part by a runaway greenhouse gas effect. Hidden below this cloud cover is the most volcanic planet in the solar system.

The two proposed Venus missions are each very different and each would accomplish something unique. The first is VERITAS or (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy). This orbiter would map the surface of Venus to better understand the complex features and help determine more about Venus’s plate tectonics and whether or not Venus is still geologically active. The other option is a one and done deal called DAVINCI+ or Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus. DAVINCI+ would drop a spherical spacecraft through the atmosphere, and during its descent the probe would collect data to help scientists better understand what the atmosphere is composed of and help complete the picture of how the planet was formed.

Sure it rains sulphuric acid and it kills all spacecraft that land there but NASA really wants to go to the planet anyway. So grab your spacesuit and get ready to show a little love to this bizarre world.

composite view of Venus
Venus looks like Mordor in this photo which is a composite of data from three different missions–two NASA projects and information from Russia’s Venera spacecraft.Photograph: JPL
remnants of Venus volcano flows
Abstract art? Or ancient volcanic remnants? While it looks like the former it’s actually volcano leftovers. In 1996 NASA’s Magellan spacecraft captured this closeup photo of some complex lava flows running south towards another volcano.Photograph: NASA/JPL
global view of Venus wind patterns
NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter studied the planet for over a decade and while it was there, it captured this stunning photo. Here we can see the wind patterns in the atmosphere and get some sense of just how thick the clouds are.Photograph: NASA
Venus channels formed by lava flows
Most terrestrial planets have channels like the ones we see here: On Earth they are mostly formed by water, on Mars by lava flows. Venus has lava channels too. This photo shows a 360-mile-long channel, the longest on the planet.Photograph: NASA/JPL
Venus Stephania crater
NASA’s Magellan spacecraft captured this crater, called Stephania, seen here as white. At only 6.8 miles wide, it’s relatively small as craters go and there’s a good reason for that. Any meteors aimed at Venus get ripped to shreds as they travel through its atmosphere, so the dents they make in the surface are relatively small.Photograph: NASA/JPL

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