Astrobiologist David Grinspoon believes that scientists should look at our neighboring planets to help understand the perils of global warming. “It seems that both Mars and Venus started out much more like Earth and then changed. They both hold priceless climate information for Earth."
The atmosphere of Venus is much thicker than Earth’s. Nevertheless, current climate models can reproduce its present temperature structure well. Now planetary scientists want to turn the clock back to understand why and how Venus changed from its former Earth-like conditions into the inferno of today. Climate scientists believe that the planet experienced a runaway greenhouse effect as the Sun gradually heated up. Astronomers believe that the young Sun was dimmer than the present-day Sun by 30 percent. Over the last 4 thousand million years, it has gradually brightened. During this increase, Venus’s surface water evaporated and entered the atmosphere.
“Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas and it caused the planet to heat-up even more. This is turn caused more water to evaporate and led to a powerful positive feedback response known as the runaway greenhouse effect,” says Grinspoon.
A week after launching a new orbiter to investigate the upper atmosphere of Mars, NASA is now sending a sounding rocket to probe the atmosphere of Venus. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 18. Now, the Venus Spectral Rocket, VeSpR for short, is scheduled to lift off from White Sands, N.M., on Nov. 25.
"It is appropriate that these launch dates are close together, because both missions will study atmospheric loss," said Kelly Fast, the program scientist for MAVEN and the program officer for Planetary Astronomy at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "VeSpR will peek at Venus from above Earth's absorbing atmosphere, and MAVEN will journey to Mars to do a long-term study."
VeSpR is a two-stage system, combining a Terrier missile – originally built as a surface-to-air missile and later repurposed to support science missions – and a Black Brant model Mk1 sounding rocket with a telescope inside. Integration took place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The experiments will look at ultraviolet (UV) light that is being emitted from Venus' atmosphere, which can provide information about the history of the planet's water. Measurements like these cannot be done using Earth-based telescopes because our atmosphere absorbs most UV light before it reaches the ground.
The solution is to make UV measurements from beyond Earth's atmosphere ( via dailygalaxy.com ).