Flying (mostly) friendly skies: Northrop Grumman developing airplane to cruise atmosphere of Venus

Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept
Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept

With so much attention now on the rovers and spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Ceres, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and, soon, Pluto, it may seem like Earth’s closest planetary neighbor Venus has been forgotten again. But no, Venus is still very much on the minds of researchers who are busy developing a concept airplane which could cruise for years in the hellish planet’s atmosphere.

Read MoreFlying (mostly) friendly skies: Northrop Grumman developing airplane to cruise atmosphere of Venus

Could life exist in Venus’ atmosphere?

Venus is an extremely inhospitable world on the surface, but high up in its atmosphere, life may be able to survive. Credit: NASA / JPL
Venus is an extremely inhospitable world on the surface, but high up in its atmosphere, life may be able to survive. Credit: NASA / JPL

Venus has a reputation for being one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, and deservedly so. Its thick carbon dioxide (and acidic) atmosphere has a crushing pressure similar to that in the deepest oceans on Earth and the scorching temperature on the surface is hot enough to melt lead. It’s like that everywhere on the planet, all the time. It has therefore been considered an extremely unlikely environment to support any kind of life. Even the toughest microbes here would find survival next to impossible. There is however a possibility, even if remote, that the upper atmosphere of this hellish world could be habitable, according to some scientists.

Read MoreCould life exist in Venus’ atmosphere?

Cassini views Venus from Saturn’s shadow

Cassini's view of Venus, as seen from Saturn. Venus is the bright speck shining through Saturn's rings, which are backlit by the sun in this image. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Cassini’s view of Venus, as seen from Saturn. Venus is the bright speck shining through Saturn’s rings, which are backlit by the sun in this image. Click for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for a long time now, taking stunning images of the giant planet and its rings and moons. Some new images, released today, show a different world though, far across the solar system and much closer to the sun -Venus.

Read MoreCassini views Venus from Saturn’s shadow