WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA is considering approving two planetary science missions out of four proposals under review by April next year, including one to Venus that scientists involved in the project said could help determine whether that planet harbors life or not.
An international research team last week described evidence of microbes potential residing in highly acidic Venusian clouds: traces of phosphine, a gas that on Earth is produced by bacteria that inhabit oxygen-free environments. This provided strong potential evidence of life outside the Earth.
In February, the U.S. space agency selected four proposed missions that are now being analyzed by a NASA panel, two of which would involve robotic probes for Venus. One of them, called DAVINCI+, would send a probe into the Venusian atmosphere.
David Grinspoon, astrobiologist working on the proposal DAVINCI+, told Reuters:
Davinci is the most logical to choose if you are motivated in part by wanting to follow this – because the way to follow this is to go over there and see what is going on in the atmosphere.
The three other proposals include: IVO, a mission to Jupiter’s Moon Io, which is volcanically active; Trident, an air trip to map Neptune’s icy moon, Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed missions to Venus that, instead, would focus on understanding the planet’s geological history. NASA said it can choose one or two of the missions.
The search for life elsewhere in the solar system has so far not focused on Venus. In fact, NASA launched in July a next generation probe jeep to look for traces of possible past life on Mars.
In light of the findings announced this month, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was “time to prioritize Venus”. In a statement, Bridenstine said that the selection process for potential new missions will be difficult,” but I know that the process will be fair and impartial.”
Grinspoon, a senior scientist from Planetary Science Institute, said the selection process must be sensitive to recent scientific discoveries.
If there was a mission for Triton as a finalist, and then someone with a telescope observed, you know, a football stadium in Triton, then, without a doubt, we should send a mission there.