The exoplanet next door
Venus is the same size as Earth and began under similarly hospitable conditions. But today it is a rocky fiery hell. Researchers are trying hard to understand the different developments - because the findings point far beyond our own solar system.
When in 1982 the newly elected Reagan administration decided to make extensive cuts in US space research, it shook the entire Department of Planetology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the casu alties was NASA's Venus Orbital Imaging Radar mission, which was planned at the time. But the scientists quickly scraped together existing parts left over from other missions and used them to make plans for a cheaper spacecraft that would cost just $680 million.
The Magellan orbiter designed in this way was launched in 1989 for Venus and reached its destination in 1990. Over the next five years, the instruments provided planet-wide radar images, gravity data, and a topographic map of Venus. Magellan was the latest in a long line of Soviet and US missions to our neighboring planet. But after the probe crashed on the surface of Venus in 1994, NASA's interest in further flights to the Earth-sized celestial body ended with it. Since then, planners have submitted more than two dozen proposals for new missions, but none have been approved. The data collected by Magellan provide the best map material to date…