By Joey Roulette
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA is considering approving by next April up to two planetary science missions from four proposals under consideration, including one to Venus that scientists involved in the project said could help determine whether or not that planet hosts life.
An international research team on Monday described evidence of potential microbes residing in highly acidic Venusian clouds: traces of phosphine, a gas that on Earth is produced by bacteria that inhabit oxygen-free environments. It has provided strong potential evidence of life beyond Earth.
The US space agency in February selected four proposed missions that are now under review by a NASA panel, two of which would involve robotic probes on Venus. One of these, named DAVINCI +, would have sent a probe into the Venusian atmosphere.
“Davinci is the logical one to choose if you are motivated in part by wanting to follow this ̵
The other three proposals include: IVO, a mission to Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io; Trident, a quick trip to map Neptune’s icy moon, Triton; and VERITAS, the second of the proposed Venus missions which would instead focus on understanding the geological history of the planet. NASA said it could 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 a next-generation rover in July to search for traces of potential past lives on Mars.
In light of Monday’s findings, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it’s “time to prioritize Venus.” In a statement, Bridenstine said the selection process for potential new missions will be tough “but I know the process will be fair and impartial.”
Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said the selection process should be sensitive to recent scientific findings.
“If there was a mission to Triton as a finalist, and then someone with a telescope was looking at, you know, a football stadium on Triton, then probably yeah, we should send a mission there,” Grinspoon said.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Will Dunham)