back to article Venus Express to get final acid bath before crashing to surface

After eight years orbiting the second planet of our solar system, the Venus Express probe is going to die this year, but the European Space Agency has some interesting plans to get the most out of the pre-teen before it disintegrates. Venus Express left our planet in 2005 and began orbiting its namesake planet four months …

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  1. fortran

    Volatile metallic compounds?

    I hadn't really followed VenusExpress, and visiting the site (Javascript required) produced no joy. Was Venus Express outfitted to detect volatile metallic compounds? Nickel carbonyl, Molybdenum oxide, Osmium oxide, ...? If so, did it find any?

  2. frank ly Silver badge

    "... its cooler, redder cousin."

    Surely that should be 'sibling'?

  3. Sanctimonious Prick
    Happy

    Screw Venus!

    What about those bodies that orbit Jupiter? They're way cool!

    1. Andrew Newstead
      Coat

      Re: Screw Venus!

      Positively cryogenic...

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Screw Venus!

      reasonably certain that "screwing" is high on the list of things (Roman deity namesake) Venus is purported to be responsible for.

  4. ScissorHands

    The nutcase brigade would never allow a NASA mission to Venus

    Venus is the poster child for atmospheric gas' greenhouse effect. Studying it would raise too many awkward questions.

    1. streeeeetch

      Re: The nutcase brigade would never allow a NASA mission to Venus

      Assuming there have been no civilisations (and yes I'm aware of the dangers of assumptions...), questions like "oh, we're not causing it then?" Not sarcasm btw, just interested in your thoughts.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: The nutcase brigade would never allow a NASA mission to Venus

        I think we can all agree that if humans somehow increased the percentage of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere to Venusian levels (96%+), that it would be bad.

        On the other hand, studying Venus's atmosphere gives us a whole other set of data, which might be useful in making sense of the Earth's atmosphere.

      2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: The nutcase brigade would never allow a NASA mission to Venus

        If we aren't causing the rise in Earth's CO2 levels, what is? Also, where does all the CO2 from our combusted fossil fuels go? Faerie farts? The extant biosphere cannot absorb anything close to what we're pumping out. There are no plants that can grow fast enough to use up that CO2.

        Worse; plants have this nasty habit of being on the surface. They don't tend to "sequester" the CO2 again, with the exception of some of the CO2 leaving the system via oceanic sequestration (algea and higher life forms dying, falling to the bottom of the ocean and being buried/subducted.)

        So there are some problems with the hypothesis "humans are so insignificant as to not be able to affect the global climate."

        1) We are releasing several hundred million years' worth of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.

        2) The extant plants can't absorb it at anything like the rate we emit it.

        3) We keep doing this "deforestation" thing on massive enough levels to make me very sad when I look at Google Earth images of British Columbia or Brazil.

        4) The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more the heat gets trapped here.

        5) The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more acidic the oceans become.

        6) The more acidic the oceans become, the less CO2 gets sequestered via ocean organisms doing their growth/consumption/burial thing.

        7) Humans like to breathe air that isn't filled with particulates, so (most) of our societies have been moving towards pollution controls which reduce the amount of particulates we crank up into the atmosphere, thus reducing the amount of radiation reflecting material in the atmosphere, giving us all the climatic CO2 effect of a lovely series of volcanic eruptions with an ever decreasing amount of soot to block out the sun.

        Anyone who does the sums and thinks we aren't affecting the climate is a goddamned idiot. We are; and fairly rapidly (on geologic timescales) at that. The flip side of this is that if we hadn't gone and done this, we'd be facing the start of another ice age in about, oh, 6000 years or so. So we've unintentionally geoengineered our planet to be more suitable for us than it was heading towards...but we may well have gone too far in the other direction on this.

        So there are questions that we need to get answers to:

        1) Is there a "new balance" oceanic ecosystem that can cope with the increased acidification on a short enough timescale to cope with the mass extinction we've initiated?

        2) Will this "new balance" ecosystem be able to ramp up it's CO2 sequestration enough to start reversing the CO2 levels? By how much, on what timescale and will we be right back to facing the Ice Age problem again if it adapts quickly?

        3) How much of the commercially important biodiversity are we going to lose when the extant oceanic ecosystem is no longer sustainable? How will we adapt to this?

        4) Tundra/Taiga thawing is releasing massive amounts of Methane, accelerating climate change and in turn accelerating thawing. Should we/can we ignite the Methane in order to turn this very powerful greenhouse gas into less potent CO2?

        5) What kind of technology needs be invented to convert Tundra/Taiga into farmland? (Muskeg is impassable to our current technology.) How much do we need to convert to meet the requirements of our species in light of the changing climate?

        6) How will rainfall patterns change, and how will these changes affect our ability to grow necessary crops?

        7) Can we alter the rainfall patterns we expect to be seeing through forestation/reforestation (forests alter rainfall patterns by altering both local albedo and the local hydrological cycle.) Should we? And Where?

        8) Can we green the desert/prevent the expansion of deserts due to change in rainfall patterns via fission-backed desalination and irrigation? Should we? And where?

        9) What areas are at risk from flooding due to sea rise or increased storm activity? What should we abandon, what should we reinforce?

        10) Much of our current agricultural technology relies on petroleum-based fertilizers. As the climate changes our energy demands will increase while at the same time we are reaching the limit (if we haven't already) of BBL/day relevant hydrocarbon extraction. (You can't make fertilizer from natural gas.) What technologies need to be invented or adapted to cope with a future in which these fertilizers are less plentiful? Can we green the desert/farm the tundra without them? Should we be caching reserves of these critical substances in order to deal with the upcoming "fringe farming" requirements while transitioning our more easily arable land towards farming techniques that don't require petroleum-based fertilizer?

        11) We are already using water from our aquifers far faster than the aquifer recharge rate. How will changing rainfall patterns affect aquifer recharge? How will we have to adjust our water usage and agricultural practices? Can we use fission-backed desalination to refill the aquifers faster than nature itself would allow, and should we?

        12) If we do change any of our current practices (for example, our very water-intensive farming techniques) how will that alter the climate? Will local variances in water evaporation or albedo (due to forestation/reforestation/greening of the desert/farming the tundra) have larger effects that we should consider? What effects are those, and how do get all the relevant political bodies together to make plans that deal with the "ripple effect" of large-scale changes undertaken by one organization?

        We aren't going to stop climate change. We aren't ever going to get people use less power or otherwise sacrifice for a "greater good" that is generations in the realization. We need to accept that, and start looking at technologies and techniques that will enable adaptation to the changing world.

        We live in a world where one man can choose to cut down an entire forest, altering the weather across the entire region and ultimately subtly changing the global climate. One person's signature can set into motion a chain of events large enough that we really should be figuring out what the repercussions are, and how best to adapt to those repercussions.

        We still have a group of people so obsessed with their own false sense of insignificance that they actually prevent us from moving beyond "can we affect the planet on a global scale". We can, and we do. What we need to be doing is qualifying how so that we can quantify the externalities current business, governance and commercial practices are not paying for and ensure those costs are properly costed as part of the cost of goods and services. We then can ensure that mitigation and adaptation efforts are funded and properly coordinated.

        That isn't religion, or radical belief, or hocus pocus. It's pragmatism. Life is change; those who adapt, survive.

    2. Bill Neal

      Re: The nutcase brigade would never allow a NASA mission to Venus

      pity that NASA is concentrating so much effort on Mars, since there is no way we are going to colonize Venus

  5. Jon Green
    Boffin

    Great terminology!

    Chris North revealed last week that ESA had recently coined a new term for deliberately crashing your spacecraft.

    "Lithobraking."

    I urge every reader to use it. This is a word we should promote.

    (Socknote: my daughter tried lithobraking from her cycle just before the weekend, and she's still got the grazes to prove it.)

    1. streeeeetch

      Re: Great terminology!

      New one on me but: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithobraking

      Summary "Throwing yourself (or it) at the ground and not missing"

    2. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Great terminology!

      Or indeed in the comments here:

      http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2012/12/14/grail_craft_moon_crash/

    3. phuzz Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Great terminology!

      I've heard 'lithobraking' used by Kerbal Space Program players. A lot.

      >>>>>> something else common in KSP

      1. Jon Green
        Pint

        Re: Great terminology!

        Ahhh. I've played with KSP, but it was so unstable on the laptop I used it on (even more so than the ships it created) that I gave up on it.

        Perhaps I should give it a second chance...

      2. Martin Budden

        Re: Great terminology!

        I've heard 'lithobraking' used by Kerbal Space Program players. A lot.

        Nah, that's 'lithobreaking' ;-)

    4. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Great terminology!

      Uh, "lithobraking" has been around since the earliest Soyuz landings. At least. That's a fairly old term.

  6. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    sounds more like the astronomical equivalent of doing doughnuts until your tyres burst ...

    Six Million Dollar Star Trek episode ...

    "She's breaking up, she's breaking up! Pull up pull up!"

    "Hold it, hold it ...just a bit more ..."

    "But she canna take it cap'n!"

    "Oh bugger the antenna's fallen off ..."

  7. Benjol

    The soundtrack on that video is... rather OTT. Which film trailer did they pinch it from?

  8. psychonaut

    mars is definately cooler

    "It's clear Venus has a lot of new science to offer, but it's being somewhat overshadowed by its cooler, redder cousin."

    there's not many things cooler than being able to remote control a nuclear powered laser wielding robot around the place...kinda difficult on venus at present.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: mars is definately cooler

      >[ ... ] being able to remote control a nuclear powered laser wielding robot >around the place...kinda difficult on venus at present.

      It's already been done, USSR - Venera space missions - 1970's - 1980's.

      I don't know if the Venera spacecraft had LASER equipment (I don't think they did). But they were nuclear-powered, they were remote-controlled, they landed (not crashed) on Venus and they sent back HD black/white and subsequently color photographs of Venus' surface.

      I think Venera 13 was the first spacecraft to send back HD color photos of Venus' surface in 1982. The spacecraft was fully operational in Venus' environment for over two hours after it landed.

      1. Beachrider

        Venera was interesting, but...

        There were 14 Venera probes. None of them moved. Of the six landers before 1978, none of them lasted much more than an hour. The last 4 landers lasted between 1 and 2 hours. Not bad for 1970s technology. They really aren't to be compared to MSL, though.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is assuredly not the case that designing, building, flying to another planet and then controlling a nuclear powered robot is easy.

    But it assuredly *is* easier than something like the Huygens probe, which broke more ground in its three hour life than the entire Curiosity mission. Venus is ignored (these days) because it is difficult. Mars landers produce long term employment and ongoing visibility for nasa programs. Which look at the same kinds of rocks. I'm sure rocks are important. But tell me that's not wrong.

    The boundaries of science are pushed forward by doing things that are hard. Go to mars - with people. It's accessible. Or do more ground breaking reconnaissance in more interesting places in the solar system, of which there are probably more than I could count.

    1. Beachrider

      Huygens was important, but...

      Huygens did send some nice pictures and measurements back. The ongoing technology for VASTLY different time objectives (Huygens flew for a month and had a 10 hour high-intensity mission)

  10. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    KSP

    It is quite normal in KSP to use aerobraking.. but I find it hard on Duna.. on Venus, should be really really easy.. maybe even too much, as it is quite dense

  11. fearnothing

    Did anyone else think the music was just a bit silly and overdone? I thought I'd somehow started up Medieval II: Total War.

  12. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    What is it with NASA?

    They send Voyagers away from home never to return, abandon poor Spirit to an icy grave and now are going to roast this one to death.

    Have they no soul?

    1. ian 22

      Re: What is it with NASA?

      I suspect you are mistaken, and that it is ESA destroying Venus Express.

      </pedantic>

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: What is it with NASA?

        Oh bugger!

        Good job I haven't used up this month's quota of mistakes though.

  13. Zebo-the-Fat
    Happy

    Spell check fail!

    Just wanted to point out that "clouds of sulfuric acid" should read "clouds of sulphuric acid"!

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