NASA plans to send a sphere whistling through the atmosphere of Venus within the next decade to collect samples and high-resolution images of the planet. Venus is so inhospitable that it's like being 900 meters underwater. NASA has given more information about one of the DAVINCI mission's instruments and how it will collect vital data in the most challenging environments.

Data on temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction will be collected by the VASI instrument as the sphere falls through the atmosphere. Questions about the planet's atmosphere, particularly its lower atmosphere, remain a mystery in many ways.

An artists concept of DAVINCI+ on its way to Venus's surface.
An artist’s concept of DAVINCI+ on its way to Venus’s surface. NASA GSFC visualization by CI Labs Michael Lentz and others

The science lead for the VASI instrument stated that there are some big puzzles about the deep atmosphere of Venus. We don't have all the pieces of that puzzle and DAVINCI will give us those pieces by measuring the composition at the same time as the pressure and temperature.

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Researchers want to know how the surface interacts with the atmosphere and how the volcanoes interacted with the atmosphere in the past. There are many volcanoes on Venus, but we don't know if they are active or not. It's important to understand the history of volcanism to know if the planet could ever have been a good place to live.

The long-term habitability of our planet is dependent on the interior and atmosphere. The long-term abundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is dependent on volcanic activity.

It is difficult to design something that can survive the high temperatures and pressures on Venus and the corrosive acid found in its atmosphere. VASI will collect data using a temperature sensor which is encased in a metal tube like a straw to protect it from the atmosphere and an atmospheric sensor which uses a Silicone Membrane stretched over a vacuum to detect the distortions caused by the pressure The thick titanium descent sphere will keep the wind sensor and other sensors safe.

Venus is difficult. Lorenz said that the low atmosphere makes it difficult to engineer the instruments and systems. It has to be protected from the environment or built to tolerate it.

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