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7 mysteries about Venus that 3 new missions could solve

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NASA and the European Space Agency recently announced the approval of three new missions to explore Venus.

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The second planet from the sun is seen as a sister planet to Earth, namely due to its similar size, mass, and proximity to the Sun.

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But there are many things we still don’t know about Venus’ past — or its present, for that matter. And learning about the planet could even help us better understand Earth.

Here are 7 mysteries the Venus missions could solve about our sister planet:

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7. Does Venus have active volcanoes?

While the planet is covered in lava and volcanic mounds, scientists have yet to discover if any of those volcanoes are active.

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On Earth, volcanoes erupt when one tectonic plate moves under another. But it’s believed that Venus does not have the same tectonic plate system as Earth.

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Exploring volcanoes could give us new understanding about the planet’s geological activity.

6. What causes rock deformation on Venus?

Large swaths of surface rock on Venus crack and crumble under geological pressure — though scientists aren’t sure why.

NASA Magellan

NC State University, based upon original NASA/JPL imagery.

New analysis of imagery from NASA’s Magellan craft suggests the planet is still geologically active, which could contribute to this phenomenon.

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But questions remain about the type of geological activity that’s present on Venus, and how it impacts what we see on the surface.

5. How did Venus’ atmosphere become what it is today?

The planet is covered in hot, dense clouds of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid.

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Hanrik Hargitai via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of that undoubtedly has to do with the geological activity on Venus, both past and present. Data collected about its surface will help inform conclusions about its atmosphere.

4. What happened to Venus’ oceans?

The planet, which today can reach up to 864 degrees Fahrenheit, has little water vapor.

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But researchers believe the planet may have once had an ocean — though it evaporated as the planet evolved to be scorching hot.

3. Where’s the phosphine coming from?

Last year, researchers detected a chemical in Venus’ clouds that’s produced by microorganisms.

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The controversial finding gives weight to the idea that Venus might be able to support life.

But no one knows for sure where the phosphine is coming from — if it’s there at all.

2. How are terrestrial planets formed?

We still don’t know everything about the origins of the bodies closest to the sun.

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Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are all composed primarily of rocks and metals. But much remains to be uncovered about the early days of these planets.

1. Why are Venus and Earth so radically different?

The sister planets are believed to have started out on similar terms, only to evolve into wildly opposite environments.

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This has been a burning scientific question for decades. Hopefully new data will be able to give us some insight into Venus, as well as our home planet.

Read more stories about science here.

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