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There have been proposals (1, 2, 3, 4,...) to send probes into the atmosphere of Venus, but these proposals haven't been selected by space agencies to fly. Some balloons were sent in the 80's, but missions towards Venus are few and far between.

With the recent discovery of significant amounts of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, there are even more reasons to send probes in situ. Can we expect the exploration of Venus to become a higher priority for space agencies? Perhaps even a flagship mission towards Venus? Or on the contrary will this discovery have no impact on the agenda of space agencies?

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    $\begingroup$ This is interesting, but opinion based. There's a lot of work to do to confirm the reading, so this is premature. $\endgroup$ – GdD Oct 1 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ To answer the question in the title: Oh great, another toxic gas to have to deal with??!! $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Oct 1 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster For phosphine, PH3, "toxic" is a euphemism! It's the phosphorus analog of ammonia, NH3, with three hydrogens on one side of the phosphorus atom. Bob Poynter, one of my unofficial mentors at JPL, pointed out his reticense to continue experiments with phosphine, saying that where ammonia can be smelled at parts per billion and is toxic at parts per million to parts per thousand, phosphine can be smelled at parts per million but is toxic at parts per billion. By the time you smell it, you've gotten a lethal dose. $\endgroup$ – Tom Spilker Oct 1 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ @TomSpilker - yet the CDC says (atsdr.cdc.gov/MMG/…) "Phosphine is a highly toxic systemic poison and a severe respiratory tract irritant." - If it kills you it is toxic. There is a good reason I was SCBA certified for the fab emergency response team. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Oct 2 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster I was not being kind to phosphine. "Euphemism" generally means something like "a word that makes something seem better than it acrually is." From the Oxford Language web site: "a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing." The gist of my comment is that the unmodified word "toxic" hardly conveys phosphine's extreme toxicity. $\endgroup$ – Tom Spilker Oct 4 at 3:27
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What does the discovery of phosphine mean for the future of Venusian exploration?

It certainly adds some impetus. However,

  • The discovery has not yet been independently confirmed. This alone is very important. What if the discovery was not a discovery at all?
  • If confirmed, devising a measuring device that can withstand the extremely acidic nature of the Venusian clouds is a nontrivial endeavor.
  • There are contending influences. NASA sends a lot of probes to Mars because there is a chance that humans will someday in the future set foot on the surface of Mars. NASA is preparing to send probes to Europa and to Titan, where there are strong indicators that life might be present. NASA and ESA have / are sending probes to Mercury because Mercury is one of the least explored planets. NASA has sent probes to Pluto and beyond because Pluto has been explored even less than has Mercury. And so on.
  • Budgets are limited. No government is going to increase the budget of that government's space agency on the basis of one discovery that happens to make the news. This means sending a mission to Venus means canceling a planned mission to Mars, Europa, or Titan, or prematurely shutting down an ongoing mission. Which one, and why?

As I wrote at the top, the discover adds some impetus to send vehicles to Venus. But it is not nearly enough impetus to justify canceling some existing project. Instead, a mission to Venus will have to compete with all of the other proposals to send vehicles elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ Another wrinkle: this announcement got a lot of media coverage because it makes a statement about phosphine being a possible indicator of biological processes. Why? Because the research team wasn't able to come up with a non-biological mechanism for creating phosphine under the conditions — some assumed — for Venus. CAVEAT: Not being able to think of a mechanism does not mean there isn't one. $\endgroup$ – Tom Spilker Oct 1 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, I know some of those scientists. Many feel that Venus has gotten short schrift in planetary exploration, with no large NASA mission to there since the 1980's. What would bring more attention to Venus? The possibility of life! For years I've joked with my colleagues that if you want huge amounts of funding for missions to your favorite destination, don't just say there might be life there, say the data indicate there might be bellicose aliens there and get defense funding! $\endgroup$ – Tom Spilker Oct 2 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's right to say there are indicators of life on titan. The temperature there is far to low for anything at all like life-as-we-know-it to exist. What there is on Titan is a lot of very interesting organic chemistry, which may be very similar to the chemistry on Earth before life came along, along with lakes and perhaps rivers of organic solvents. All of which makes it a fascinating destination, but if you're holding out hope for life you're probably still better off with Europa, Enceladus or Mars. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Oct 2 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel - I've added Europa as the Europa Clipper mission will launch before the Titan Dragonfly does. The point remains the same: Should NASA cancel those missions that are already in development so as to develop a mission to Venus that is not yet justified? The press operates on whims. NASA does not. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Oct 2 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen I agree with your answer - I was only addressing that one small technical point :) $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Oct 2 at 5:47
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As the previous answer says, it might still be too soon for new missions to be planned based on the detection of phosphine published this septembre. However, it might already have an impact on missions that are already flying. Based on this article, BepiColombo and Parker Solar Probe will both be turned towards Venus as they fly by, in an attempt to confirm the detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus.

Although no new mission has yet been planned to go to Venus based on this supposed detection, some missions currently under preparation could be slightly modified to try to detect phosphine.

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