Tuesday, 11th April 2006, 12:41
LIFE STYLE EXTRA (UK) – The successful orbit of Venus, the ‘forgotten’ planet, was today hailed as the beginning of a new era which will lead to exploration beyond our solar system.
As the Venus Express began its 500 day orbit of the planet Professor David Southwood said scientists wanted answers to how we came to be here today.
Speaking via video link at a press conference at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Darmstadt, Germany, Prof Southwood said: “Venus is one more planet checked off the list, but it’s important for us to do more planetary exploration.
“We are planning to go back to Mars and Mercury, which is one of the most mysterious planets.
“These plans may seem far away but there’s a lot more in our universe to be discovered. We need to put more emphasis on exploring beyond the solar system into the galaxy and beyond, back to the very beginning of the universe with the Big Bang.
“The next major mission will be increasing investigation into astronomy for the next few years. It’s part and parcel of bringing together the whole picture of the place where we live and finding out how we turned up here out of all that.
“That’s the kind of question we’re facing on a grand scale in science and it’s essential to go into space to find the answers.
“Venus is just one more step on that route.”
Today scientists successfully manouvred the Venus Express craft into orbit for a 500-day mission which they hope will give them key information that could help avoid the potentially catastrophic problem of climate change.
Though Earth and Venus were born at the same time, are similar in size and roughly the same distance from the sun, their climates are extremely different.
On Venus, surface temperatures can soar to 500 Celcius, sulphuric acid rains down from chemical clouds and there is no oxygen or water in the atmosphere.
But the ESA, which launched the probe from Earth in November 2005, hope data transmitted from the orbiter’s sensors will help them learn more about the greenhouse effect that is warming the Earth.
During the televised press conference at the Royal Society in Piccadilly, Professor Fred Taylor, from Oxford University said they had overcome the most difficult hurdle.
He said: “This European planetary group has come of age with this machine, and Europe is now a major player in this field.
“We have more wonderful science to come and this is only just beginning. This operation has gone like clockwork and it’s been great.”
A total of 17 European countries collaborated in the project but the team hope to gain extra funding to extend the research for a further 500 days.
Copyright © 2006 National News +44(0)207 684 3000