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An artist's impress of the Venus Express orbiter around Venus. (ESA)

This Satellite's Last Act Will Be Skydiving Through Venus' Atmosphere

The ESA's Venus Express orbiter is going to end its life with a trip into Venus' atmosphere

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Venus might be the closest planet to Earth and the most similar in size, but it's a scary place: the atmosphere is hot, the air is poison, rain is made of sulfuric acid and volcanoes pepper the surface. It was also the inspiration for our modern understanding of the hazards of a strong global greenhouse effect.

Yet for all its importance, Venus has been studied relatively poorly compared to some of the other planets. After a burst of activity in the 1970s and 80s, our attention on Earth's smoldering twin has largely waned.

The European Space Angecy's Venus Express orbiter is an exception, and for the past eight years VEX has been circling the planet. But now the spacecraft is out of fuel, and its main mission has come to an end.

Not content to let VEX retire just yet, the ESA is going to take one last step to get everything they can out of the little spacecraft. Over coming weeks the space agency is going to maneuver VEX out of its safe orbit and gradually push it into Venus' atmosphere.

Sensors about VEX will be able to gather direct observations of the temperature and pressure within Venus' atmosphere, says Space Fellowship, along with measurements of the planet's magnetic field, the properties of the solar wind and the composition of the air.

The increased drag from the thickening atmosphere will likely kill the orbiter, says the ESA, yet with so few missions making it to Venus its important to study everything you can while you're there.

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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