A spacecraft with the intended destination of Mercury is expected to make a close flyby of Venus in mid-October, providing scientists with the chance to gather additional information to back up recent revelations that the distant planet may in fact harbor life.
The spacecraft in question – BepiColombo – is part of a joint international project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The craft’s mission is intended to study Mercury’s composition, geophysics, atmosphere, magnetosphere and overall history.
Although BepiColombo may provide scientists with a vast amount of information on Mercury in a few years’ time, the space mission will be able to give officials further insight into Venus sooner, since the craft will have to conduct two Venus flybys as it attempts to use the planet’s gravitational pull to curb its speed before heading to Mercury.
While the agency has already indicated that the instruments aboard BepiColombo have been designed to specifically function for Mercury’s environment, the ESA has stated that the mission still has the capabilities to possibly investigate Venus’ atmosphere and ionosphere.
Helbert told the outlet that he believes the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (MERTIS) device aboard ESA’s orbiter would be best at studying Venus’ atmosphere, but that ultimately there is still a possibility that it may not be successful, since the device was made for Mercury and will be at a distance of over 6,200 miles from Venus.
The agency would have to get “very, very lucky” to detect phosphine on Venus during the first flyby, Helbert said.
An international team of researchers stunned many in the science communities earlier this week after they announced that they’d discovered potential signs of life on Venus. Their study, which was published September 14 in the journal Nature Astronomy, detailed that traces of phosphine had been spotted in Venus’ hazy, yellow clouds.