NASA's last mission to Venus was the Magellan mission, in which the American space agency sent a robotic explorer to orbit our sister planet from 1990 to 1994. During this period, Magellan, armed with sophisticated imaging radar, made the most detailed maps of Venus.
Now, David Sandwell, a planetary geologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, is part of a group of scientists who want to use that data to create a software map like Google Earth: Google Venus.
"When Congress learned that there's no life on Venus, they lost interest in the planet," said Sandwell, who contributed to Google Earth, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego. "NASA is more interested in missions to Mars and some of the moons of Jupiter, where life may have existed."
Some scientists believe that life may have existed or even exist now on Venus—just not the kind of aerobic-based life we're familiar with here on Earth.
"It's possible that Venus could have tiny microbes in its cloud particles, or that some form of Venusian life could have developed by using ultraviolet light much like Earth's plants use sunlight to make food," said David Grinspoon, assistant professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at Colorado University-Boulder.
"There could even be a non-carbon-based equivalent to lichens atop Venus' five-mile-high volcanoes, perhaps feeding on sulfur gases."
Google Venus wouldn't be about looking for life on the planet, though one can encounter a plethora of surprises just by perusing Google Earth. But who knows, the Venusian surface is so pristine that a keen eye may find a clue.
"Venus has no water, no erosion. So you can look at the impact craters and tell when they hit the planet, letting you refine the age of Venus," Sandwell said.
Venus's complete story is yet to be told. Google Venus will help tell it.
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